Submitted to: Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/26/2009
Publication Date: 7/8/2009
Citation: Rains, G., Kulasiri, D., Zhou, Z., Samarasinghe, S., Tomberlin, J.K., Olson, D.M. 2009. Synthesizing neurophysiology, genetics, behaviour and learning to produce whole-insect programmable sensors to detect volatile chemicals. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews. 36:191-216. DOI:10.1603/EC09301. Interpretive Summary: Insects have extremely sensitive systems of olfaction. These systems have been explored as potential sensors for odorants associated with forensics, medicine, security, and agriculture application. Most sensors based on insect olfaction utilize associative learning to “program” the insects to exhibit some form of behavioral response to a target odorant. To move to the next stage of development with whole-insect programmable sensors, an examination of how odorants are captured, processed and used to create behaviors is necessary. This review article examines how the neurophysiologic, molecular, genetic and behavioral system of olfaction works and how understanding these systems should lead the way to future developments in whole-insect programmable sensors.
Technical Abstract: Most insects have evolved highly sensitive olfactory systems which respond to odors in their environment. The extremely sensitive nature of the insect olfaction system is enhanced by the ability to learn to associate external stimuli with resources, such as food, hosts, and mates. There have been a few studies initially funded by the Defense Department which have demonstrated the ability to condition wasps, bees, and moths to odors of human interest and to detect these odors through measurable behavioural responses. Information on the anatomy, neurophysiology and genetics of the insect olfaction system are accumulating. We reviewed the accumulated information on insect olfaction and memory and report the results here. We also address the areas that need further study and suggest ways that a biological sensor using the insect olfaction system can be enhanced with selective breeding, and the use of species specific computational models.