Bugging Out on Homeland Security

Wings, antennae and scales may be our best weapons yet against toxins and explosives
black and yellow butterfly on a leaf
Why We Need Them Robotics can´t yet mimic insects´ flying abilities, so scientists are developing controllable cyborg butterflies that could fly sample-collection missions through buildings. How They Work A chip, implanted during the pupal stage, could control locomotion, monitor the air, and override instincts to feed, mate, and avoid certain environments. Deployment Darpa has solicited public proposals but hasn´t announced a winner. Scientists are in the early stages of research; a final product is years away. Drawbacks Implanting a chip in a developing insect could stunt its growth and damage its ability to fly as an adult.

See the photo gallery for an illustrated look at a creepy new line of defense**

Annoying as they are, you may want to think twice before you crush a cockroach or swat a fly-you could be killing a future foot soldier in the war on terror. Increasingly, scientists are turning to insects and other creatures for better ways to identify biohazards. â€Cockroaches can detect all kinds of things, from anthrax spores to DNA,†says Karen Kester, an entomologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. With $1 million in funding from the Pentagon´s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), Kester is studying ways to use roaches and houseflies as toxin sentinels inside contaminated buildings or subways. This, of course, spares humans the job, and it may prove more effective than mechanical sensors, which often lack the range and sensitivity of their living counterparts.

Bees and fish are also in demand. A small British biotechnology firm called Inscentinel is employing the finely tuned olfactory system of bees to sniff for explosives. And New York, California and Maryland are exploiting the highly sensitive nervous system of bluegill fish to test for toxins in municipal water supplies. Bill Lawler, co-founder of Intelligent Automation Corporation, the California company that sells the bluegill-monitoring system, says living sensors are â€the wave of the future.†So go easy on the Raid.

For more living sensors, launch the photo gallery here.**

Bluegill fish swimming in the water
wasp attached to a pupa
red roach on green leaves