Monday, October 22, 2012

Explosive Detecting Bees - Bees in a Box

It's late in the afternoon so at first we thought we just weren't reading things right.  But we were reading things right after all.  There is a new weapon for fighting terrorism - BEES.

This week's Government Interest Patent Applications  contain the pre-grant publication of patent application 13/439825:


What actually caught our eye was the application's abstract which says,
"A specialized conditioning protocol for honeybees that is designed for use within a complex agricultural ecosystem. This method ensures that the conditioned bees will be less likely to exhibit a conditioned response to uninfected plants, a false positive response that would render such a biological sensor unreliable for agricultural decision support. Also described is a superboosting training regime that allows training without the aid of expensive equipment and protocols for training in out in the field. Also described is a memory enhancing cocktail that aids in long term memory retention of a vapor signature. This allows the bees to be used in the field for longer durations and with fewer bees trained overall."
Ok.  An agricultural use for bees.  But then the Assignees include the University of California (a place with lots of agriculture) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), - a company formed by the University of California, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services and URS Energy and Construction - a place known for its national security work.    The Los Alamos mission is to,
 "develop and apply science and technology to ensure safety, security and reliability of the US nucler deterrent; reduce global threats, and solve emerging national security and energy challenges."

At first we thought Killer Bees (we did watch SNL this weekend after all) but with a little internet digging around we learned that the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project at the Lab is using Pavlovian techniques (yes, the same as the rewards for the dog) to teach honeybees to signal the presence of certain explosives or chemicals by sticking out their tongues.  (No kidding.) The Bee in a Box (BiB) technology is tailored for detection of agricultural pathogens - volatile organic compounds - explosives, drugs - using special cassettes designed for use at security checkpoints to discreetly check for explosives.

And consider this - honeybees can be trained to respond to a particular scent within hours (dogs take a lot longer), and are inexpensive to reproduce and maintain.  This technology (a better word is needed here - apparatus, method, insect) may help replace or supplement the current bomb-sniffing dogs and frankly no one will shed a tear at the bee's untimely passing, plus there is no need to create Drug Bee trading cards.

In addition to explosives, the technology offers options for drug detection, identification of the presence of crop disease in a variety of agricultural settings - preventing significant loss of high value crops through early detection - and hopefully saving those chardonnay grapes from any evil invasion of crop disease.

Claim 1 is provides the basics on the invention:

1. A method for detecting agricultural volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, the method comprising: (a) training bees to exhibit a proboscis extension response when exposed to a selected volatile or semi-volatile organic compound (VOC/SVOC), the training comprising: exposing a bee to background air; exposing the bee to the selected (VOC/SVOC); and exposing the bee to said selected (VOC/SVOC) while stimulating an antennae of the bee with a sugar solution to produce a trained bee; (b) exposing the trained bee to a sample; and (c) observing a response of the trained bee to the exposure of the sample; (d) wherein the presence of the selected (VOC/SVOC) from the sample will cause the trained bee to exhibit a proboscis extension response. 
See for yourself:

Self reproducing technology.

A good find for a Monday.