Monday, 20 October 2014

How The Fruit Fly Could Help Us Sniff Out Drugs And Bombs

October 17, 2014

Provided by Jacqui Bealing, University of Sussex

A fly’s sense of smell could be used in new technology to detect drugs and bombs, new University of Sussex research has found.

Brain scientist Professor Thomas Nowotny was surprised to find that the ‘nose’ of fruit flies can identify odors from illicit drugs and explosive substances almost as accurately as wine odor, which the insects are naturally attracted to because it smells like their favorite food, fermenting fruit.

Published October 15 in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, the study brings scientists closer to developing electronic noses (e-noses) that closely replicate the sensitive olfactory sense of animals.

The hope is that such e-noses will be much more sensitive and much faster than the currently commercially available e-noses that are typically based on metal-oxide sensors and are very slow, compared to a biological nose.

Professor Nowotny, Professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex, led the study alongside researchers from Monash University and CSIRO in Australia. He said: “Dogs can smell drugs and people have trained bees to detect explosives. Here we are looking more for what it is in the nose – which receptors – that allows animals to do this.

“In looking at fruit flies, we have found that, contrary to our expectation, unfamiliar odors, such as from explosives, were not only recognized but broadly recognized with the same accuracy as odors more relevant to a fly’s behavior.”


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