Scientists from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, are turning the American grasshopper into a bomb-detecting cyborg.

To develop the cyborg grasshopper, the scientists reconfigured the insect’s olfactory system. Olfactory receptor neurons on the grasshoppers’ antennae already detect the presence of airborne chemical odors. During this process, the neurons send electrical signals to the grasshopper’s antennal lobe, a region of the grasshopper’s brain. In these antennal lobes, the team of scientists implanted electrodes. When introduced to vapors of assorted explosive materials, including trinitrotoluene (TNT), and 2,4-dinitrotoluene (DNT), different groups of the estimated 50,000 neurons located on each antenna reacted.

To further develop the cyborg grasshoppers, the team outfitted the grasshoppers with so-called sensor backpacks that recorded and wirelessly transmitted the electrical signal data to a computer immediately.

According to the data, the grasshoppers managed to detect explosives for roughly seven hours following the injection of the electrodes. At the conclusion of seven hours, however, the grasshoppers were depleted of energy and subsequently died.

While the grasshoppers collectively achieved an 80% rate of accuracy in detecting the presence of explosives, individually, the grasshopper’s rate of accuracy was just 60%. As such, the team will continue to work with the insects. Likewise, they will attempt to determine if the grasshoppers can detect explosives when several odors occur at once. The developers intend for the grasshoppers to eventually be a tool used by Homeland Security.

The study titled "Explosive sensing with insect-based biorobots" appears in bioRxiv.

To see an earlier demonstration from the Washington University team of how the technology works when applied to locusts, watch the accompanying video.

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