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Undisciplined: Here Come The Cyborg Locusts

Baranidharan Raman

Since the dawn of agriculture, locusts have been a scourge for farmers around the world. But a new study suggests that while we’ve long been focused on the harms locusts can cause, we might be missing out on the benefits. For instance, and this is just one example, locusts are really good at detecting explosives.

The researchers in Barani Raman’s lab at Washington University in St. Louis are focused on understanding the design and computing principles of biological sensory systems using the relatively simple but highly perceptive olfactory systems of invertebrates. The lab’s latest study, published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, may pave the way for an era in which dogs are replaced by bomb-sniffing cyborg locusts in airports around the world.

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.