Research on locust olfaction funded by United States

Thomas Crisp - Contributing Columnist

They say heat-generating “tattoos” will enable locusts to be guided into dangerous or remote areas via remote control. Neural signals from the locust’s brain will then be processed by an on-board low-power processing chip that will decode the information and send a wireless alert back to the authorities.

And the result will appear on a simple LED: red for present, green for absent.

Baranidharan Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science Washington University, has studied the way locusts smell for several years. And the Office of Naval Research in the United States has now given him a $750,000 (£565,000) grant to continue his research.

Olfaction, better known as the ability to smell, is considered a primary sensory quality in insects whereas it is more of an aesthetic sense for humans, according to Raman.

But locusts have a similar sense of smell to humans in that they can identify a particular smell even when it is mixed in with other odors. Raman said they had “robotic noses” that could be trained to pinpoint and recall a smell such as dangerous chemicals.

“It took only a few hundred milliseconds for the locust’s brain to begin tracking a novel odor introduced in its surroundings. The locusts are processing chemical cues in an extremely rapid fashion. Even the state-of-the-art miniaturized chemical-sensing devices have a handful of sensors. On the other hand, if you look at the insect antennae, where their chemical sensors are located, there are several hundreds of thousands of sensors and of a variety of types,” he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor of materials science, who specializes in nanomaterials, will be creating a plasmonic “tattoo” made of a biocompatible silk that will be applied to the locusts’ wings to generate mild heat and help steer them toward particular locations by remote control.

The tattoos will also be able to collect samples of volatile organic compounds in their proximity for other testing methods.

Raman estimates the prototype will be ready for rigorous testing in a year and if successful the locusts could be ready in less than two years. He also believes this new sensor technology could help to detect medical conditions in humans that are currently diagnosed by smell. (Source: BBC News | 4 July 2016)

Thomas Crisp

Contributing Columnist

Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.

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