Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Wasps enlisted in war on terror
I don't know about you, but I hate bugs. I can't stand the sight of them and their tiny little eyes, their creepy antennae. I can't even bring myself to kill them in my house. I have to call my husband.

But now, my feelings about bugs may have to change, because they may one day be our first line of defense in the war on terror. That's right, bugs fighting in the war on terror.

I'm working on a story for tonight's show about a Georgia research scientist who figured out a way to train wasps to identify the smell of vanilla and chocolate. The U.S. Department of Defense spotted an opportunity and asked him to train wasps to detect nerve gas and explosives like TNT too. And he's actually done it.

The scientist, Dr. Joe Lewis, trains the wasps by getting them to associate food with the odor they're supposed to detect, almost like giving a dog a treat after he does something well. Wasps have a keen sense of smell and can detect chemicals at very minute levels.

So one day, you may see airport police or the TSA working with a handful of wasps to detect killer substances. What a thought! The training process takes only a few minutes, which is a good thing, because these wasps typically live for just three weeks.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 12:03 PM ET
  50 Comments
You've changed my opinion on bugs...who new they could be trained to do anything...well, I have heard of the flea circus.
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Butler, PA : 12:19 PM ET
Randi, I love your reports. Now I will think twice before I kill that ugly, disgusting creature. Thanks to 360 I may begin to love bugs...on second thought maybe not.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel-Albuquerque, NM : 12:20 PM ET
Let's hope the government does not waste any more of our tax dollars by training wasps! Time to think of a real answer to fighting the war on terror.
Posted By Anonymous Tamara, Nashua, NH : 12:36 PM ET
I wonder though, which will cause more immediate fear for airline passengers and subway riders, the threat of nerve gas or a swarm of wasps headed your way? Fighting chaos with chaos doesn't seem to make sense. But then again, neither does anything the federal government does.

Go, fight, win the war on terror!
Posted By Anonymous Megan Johnson, Washington DC : 12:37 PM ET
Ah. So the new buzz on airport security is wasps. So many puns...so little time. As for detecting chocolate...girl, they could hire ME for that! As usual, looking forward to your segment. CNN sure does keep the public up to date with new and unusual stories.
Posted By Anonymous Laura; Syracuse, NY : 12:38 PM ET
I have worked with insects as natural predators for greenhouse opperations. The costs were thru the roof untill I implemented the program.

My point? I feel as though we think we are the only living/working entities on the planet. Insects are overlooked for their benifits in many ways. I will be following this story.
Posted By Anonymous Christina Bird, Welland ON : 12:38 PM ET
I guess dogs and the Raid Company will be out of a job soon !!!
Posted By Anonymous Manon, Longueuil, Quebec : 12:39 PM ET
Science is amazing. It strikes me that with all of our technology we are using an insect to perform very important work. God's creative wonders still have so much to be explored.
Posted By Anonymous Scott, Mobile Alabama : 12:41 PM ET
Wow, a frontline of insects - that would be a sight to see! The further technology advances, the more it seems like science fiction! I wonder if there is any way to train them to sting?
Posted By Anonymous Brian Westover, Rexburg, Idaho : 12:42 PM ET
Wasps fighting terror? Sounds a little funny to me. Whats next, Ant's doing construction work?

Truthfully if this project really works then In the long run Wasps can definitely have their advantages over dogs. They can fly, they are cheaper to obtain and you can send off hundreds in a war zone and not have to worry about their return, as opposed to a dogs, which most of us have a sof spot for.
Posted By Anonymous Nariman Norouz Woodland Hills, CA : 12:44 PM ET
I thought White Anglo-Saxon Protestants lived longer than that.
Posted By Anonymous Bob, Cleveland, Ohio : 12:49 PM ET
Scientists have been doing this same research using honey bees to detect explosives, chemicals, etc. for some time now.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Robert, Miami FL : 1:02 PM ET
What kind of wasps are these? Can we also train them to sting the terrorists?
Posted By Anonymous Jim, Chicago, IL : 1:05 PM ET
Ah, but can they smell and identify gun-totin' Vice Presidents???
Posted By Anonymous Tonya, Pittsburgh, PA : 1:08 PM ET
Holy bee stings, BAT MAN!!
Posted By Anonymous JM, Dover, DE : 1:09 PM ET
There is also a scientist, Jerry Bromenshenk, out of the University of Montana who has trained bees for a similar purpose. His bees have been trained to detect old land mines. The company he formed is called Bee Alert Technologies. As I understand it, they have had great success with their initial trials. You should also look into this company for your story. The best way to reach Jerry is through the University.
Posted By Anonymous Adam de Yong, Helena, Montana : 1:14 PM ET
wow, that's really cool!
Posted By Anonymous Neeta, Worcester, MA : 1:15 PM ET
I doubt if there will ever be any wasps used at an airport to screen passengers with the issue of liability if someone goes into anaplectic shock from a sting. This sounds like another hare brained governmnet idea.
Posted By Anonymous Jon---Clifton Park, N.Y. : 1:17 PM ET
Is this program brought to us by the same people who brought us FEMA?

Airport security is already unpleasant enough without wasps buzzing around.
Posted By Anonymous Karen, Wakefield, RI : 1:18 PM ET
I totally thought the story was going to go like this: "State Department Defense officials have released plans to drop large amounts of chocolate syrup and vanilla extract on insurgents; then wasps would be sent it to sting the insurgents into submission."

That would be a better way to fight "the war on terror".
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Philadelphia, PA : 1:18 PM ET
Bless Mother Nature, Randi! We don't know much about the secret of the nature, do we? Even in bugs that you (and I)loath! Keep on looking for stories like this. God knows that the cures for lethal diseases are hidden in the forests we are destroying or the ocean we are polluting. It seems that it's time for us to be befriended with the Mother Nature even more than ever before.
Posted By Anonymous V.A. Churchill, Houston, TX : 1:19 PM ET
This is very interesting, however, where would the application be? Certainly not airports. Is it safe to send wasps out into public places? They are trained to find chemicals, but are they trained not to attack people? If they only live for 3 weeks, how will these wasps be used effectively?

I am guessing TSA officials with wands will be replaced with leashes attached to wasps...
Posted By Anonymous Dan Higgins, Providence, RI : 1:20 PM ET
Whatever works should be explored. But personally, wasps scare me.
Posted By Anonymous Milena, Ft. Lauderdale, FL : 1:21 PM ET
Very Pavlovian. Ivan would be super proud of Dr. Lewis' accomplishments.

I think it might have been better to find a species that lived longer, though. He's got to re-teach them every 3 weeks...how annoying!

Unlike you Randi, I don't think this useful skill wasps have could make me reverse my hatred of ugly bugs. LOL.
Posted By Anonymous Claudine, Saint James, NY : 1:22 PM ET
Old news, labs all over the world have been working on this for years. They were even able to produce TNT detecting plants. Please, read up on current events having to do with science.
Posted By Anonymous Fred Lundgrif Sacramento CA. : 1:23 PM ET
O the inanity!
Posted By Anonymous Mason, Atlanta, Georgia : 1:25 PM ET
Maybe they can train the wasps on how to smell Bin Laden. Better than anything they've done so far to find him!
Posted By Anonymous Kathy, Long Island NY : 1:25 PM ET
Train them to detect nuclear power or uranium and let them loose in Iran.hahahaa
Posted By Anonymous Kim Butler, Alberta , Canada : 1:26 PM ET
One wonders how a wasp communicates the fact that it has found what it was trained to discover.
Posted By Anonymous Phil, Kansas City, MO : 1:27 PM ET
well now I think all of us should stop killing bugs I guess where they could protect us, Thank you Randi
Posted By Anonymous J. Smith,Whitesboro,NY : 1:31 PM ET
Randi:

Interesting story.

We train dogs to dial 911, cats to be undercover agents and now we can train wasps to fight the war on terror -- why not.

Let's enlist these little buggers.
Posted By Anonymous Vicki, Long Island, NY : 1:32 PM ET
Training WASPS? I can't even get my dog to pee in the right place.

This guy needs his own show, "The Wasp Whisperer."
Posted By Anonymous Courtney, Chagrin Falls, OH : 1:37 PM ET
The wasps where I live are very sharpe when it comes to finding things-- like my lunch. If they start working with us to fight terrorism, though, then I might consider letting the wasp have its way one of these days.
Posted By Anonymous Molly, Coleville, CA : 1:41 PM ET
Its about time! Nice to see the WASPS getting more involved in our nation's defense, not like in the past with all those student deferments. Even Dick Cheney seems to be getting in the spirit of things lately, maybe we can convince him that the quail hunting in Tora Bora is excellent this time of year and bag some Al Qaeda members in the process.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin, New York NY : 1:41 PM ET
I can see it now. The TSA wasps get loose, and they sting many air travelers. Some of them are allergic -- one even dies. You can never win, aye? Can you say l-a-w-s-u-i-t-s? Even though a bee sting is one of the last things I want to get on a trip, I guess a mere sting is not as bad as interference with my civil liberties.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Petersen, Dammeron Valley, UT : 1:42 PM ET
I'm trying to imagine what this would look like! A TSA employe with ... what? A cage full of wasps? A wasp on a leash?

And what about at the end of your trip... relieved that the airline hasn't lost your suitcase, you open it to find a nice buzzing gift from airport security.

No thanks, I'd prefer a dog sniffing my luggage.
Posted By Anonymous Lizzy, Stanford, CA : 1:49 PM ET
Hey guys,
I'm a little frustrated...I've replied to at least one blog daily for the past two weeks or so and not once have I been published! What gives? I read a bunch of these nonsense responses from others and wonder how the heck they get posted and I don't. Just wondering what your screening process is for this. You'd think I'd get at least 1 out of 15?!
Posted By Anonymous Ben, Malvern, PA : 1:50 PM ET
Ohhhhh you mean Wasps not WASP'S, I was about to say, the day WASPS allow their own kind to actually be enlisted without the use of their old wealth as deterrance is the day pigs can fly.
Posted By Anonymous Doodles, New York, NY : 1:59 PM ET
one has to remember the implications of releasing these wasps in new environments. Might have a negative effect on local flora and fauna. (unless they disable reproductory functions on the wasps)
Posted By Anonymous Ashu tosh, Ontario, Canada : 2:05 PM ET
That is just coooool!! Whatever works, I say use it.
Posted By Anonymous Kris D, Toronto : 2:14 PM ET
Are you kidding? If our own government can�t handle the job, I don't think bugs could do any better! Then again, maybe they could.
Posted By Anonymous Nosyaj, Dallas, Texas : 2:29 PM ET
Randi, In the end we will find that Mother Nature has ALL the answers. Man is so arrogant that he can't see the forrest for the trees. Wise men understand nature and seek to flow with it, learn from it, rather than, change it to facilitate the selfishness of mankind.
Posted By Anonymous Judy StageBrooklyn Michigan : 2:30 PM ET
Wasps!They may be useful for some things,but yikes! I for one am highly allergic to bee stings.
Bert
Bremen,Ky
Posted By Anonymous Bert Piper Bremen,Ky : 2:43 PM ET
I dont believe that wasps can stop the war on terror. How can you stop a network (international jihadi web) with bugs, when you do not even have viable information on the terrorists. We are still trying to figure out their plan and strategies. They have penetrated into the American society through the academia, religion, financial, and government realms. If we are seriously funding a project like this, then we need to rethink our government. As a stated early, how can you unleash a counter-offensive if you dont know what to unleash it upon.
Posted By Anonymous Vince McLeod IV, Whittier CA : 2:45 PM ET
I am not too suprised at this find. I was able to train praying mantises very well when I was a kid. It all revolves around food.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Dallas, TX : 2:46 PM ET
Hey Ben in Malvern,
Looks like you figured out the secret to getting posted - complain about NOT being posted!!
I must say I've felt the same frustration myself once or twice.
Welcome to the Blog!

(I betcha this won't get posted...but now that I've just said that, maybe it will...or not...or yes...)
Posted By Anonymous Allie, Piscataway, NJ : 2:46 PM ET
Sounds like a plan!!!
Posted By Anonymous William Penix Nashville ,Tn : 2:48 PM ET
Wow! And I thought we were cool when we made flashlights out of lightening bugs at summer camp as kids. Well, I'm down here in New Orleans....I wonder if we could train roaches!!
Posted By Anonymous Renee, New Orleans, LA : 3:03 PM ET
But what are they detecting: key components of the compounds?--so how about false positives?
And why are we spending federal money
on this?--sounds suspiciously like the
beginning of another government
boondoggle.
Posted By Anonymous Stacy, Socorro, New Mexico : 3:09 PM ET
What does it mean when these flies follow me around then? What have they been trained to do??
Posted By Anonymous Lowell, Balaton, MN : 3:34 PM ET
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