They may be common household pests, but fruit flies could soon be used to help detect explosives.
The "nose" of the fruit fly is strongly attracted to wine because it smells like its favourite food, fermenting fruit, but brain scientist Professor Thomas Nowotny has discovered that it can also accurately sniff out odours from illicit drugs and explosive substances.
The findings, published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, will help bring scientists closer to "recreating" animals' noses in an electronic format for a broad range of uses - from bomb detection to detecting health problems through breath analysis.
Nowotny, who specialises in informatics at the University of Sussex, led the study with researchers from Monash University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.
"Dogs can smell drugs and people have trained bees to detect explosives," he explained. "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 odours, such as from explosives, were not only recognised but broadly recognised with the same accuracy as odours more relevant to a fly's behaviour."