Sniffer bees for poorly trees

Last updated 05:00 10/12/2012
Bees being trained
TASTE TEST: Josh Thia, University of Canterbury masters student, trains bees to stick out their tongues if they detect chemicals released by apples when they are infested with light brown apple moth caterpillars.

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First came sniffer dogs, now there are sniffer bees.

The insects are being trained at the Food and Plant Research laboratory in Lincoln to detect the scent of apples which have been infected by light brown apple moth caterpillars so the trees can be dealt with.

"There's compounds in caterpillar spit that causes apples to release other compounds," project head and science group leader Max Suckling said.

"We train the bees to smell where the caterpillars have been feeding. We can potentially use this for improving pest management."

Canterbury University fourth-year evolutionary biology student Josh Thia said the bees were taught through smell, taste and touch.

They were given certain compounds to smell. Then they would be fed sugar and the bee trainer would also touch their antennae, so the bees would associate the smell with touch and sugar, and stick out their tongue when they smelt the same compounds again.

Suckling said the bees were also being trained to detect liberibacter, a bacteria causing serious infections in tomatoes and potatoes in New Zealand.

"Bees can detect chemicals in parts of a quadrillion."

Suckling has worked with honey bees on and off for two years. A previous project involved training bees to detect tuberculosis.

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