Cyborg locusts being developed to sniff out explosives

US engineers are developing new "cyborg" insects to detect explosives.

The team of scientists from Washington University in St Louis are working on a system of heat-generating silk "tattoos" that would be placed on the wings of locusts and turn them into remote controlled bomb detectors.

The heat generated by the biocompatible silk would help steer locusts to move towards particular locations by remote control.

Electrodes in their brains would then beam information back to their operators indicating whether or not they had found dangerous substances.

Baranidharan Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University, has received a $750,000 (£565,000) grant from the Office of Naval Research to develop a locust model.

"Why reinvent the wheel?" Mr Raman told the university's paper The Source. "Why not take advantage of the biological solution?"

The state-of-the-art miniaturised chemical sensing devices have a handful of sensors. On the other hand, if you look at the insect antenna, where their chemical sensors are located, there are several hundreds of thousands of sensors and of a variety of types.

Baranidharan Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering, Washington University

Cyborg insects have a number of advantages - they can fly into hard-to-reach places and run a far lower risk of triggering explosions than other animals that have been used to detect bombs such as dogs.