Photo by Andy Hay via Flickr CC
Scientists from MIT have discovered that by coating carbon nanotubes in bee venom, they can create ultra-sensitive detectors for explosives such as TNT, as well as at least two different types of pesticides. This means that bees and their stingers could become important to making better environmental sensors. MIT reports that Michael Strano and fellow chemical engineers coated one-atom-thick tubes of carbon with protein fragments found in bee venom, and this is the first time researchers have seen the proteins react to explosives. The new sensors are hypersensitive to explosives, with the ability to detect even single molecules of the chemicals, and further, they can even detect the molecules the explosive chemicals form into as they break down. The sensors can provide experts with a "fingerprint" of each explosive as well as the state of its breakdown.
But the sensors aren't just useful for explosives -- the researchers found that the coated nanotubes can also detect two pesticides that contain nitro-aromatic compounds. This means the sensors can be useful not only to anyone from airport security officials to military troops, but also could be useful environmental sensors. It's certainly an interesting use of venom, especially after we recently saw that scorpion venom can be used to create pesticides.
Strano has filed for a patent on the sensor, and the team is still working out a compression system to ensure that any molecules in the air come into contact with the tubes and are therefore detected. But the team is hopeful that the sensors could become a commercial product in the near future.
This is certainly a novel approach for using the proteins found in bee venom. It seems there are a number of potential uses for the poison, even including boosting brain functions like memory and learning.
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