Joe Lewis, vice mayor of Tifton (photo courtesy of Tifton Gazette)

Joe Lewis, vice mayor of Tifton (photo courtesy of Tifton Gazette)

“You don’t take a wasp around on a leash, you know!” laughed Joe Lewis as he described the incredible invention he has developed for his wasps.

Lewis, vice mayor of Tifton, has developed a way for wasps to help detect various objects including bombs, dead bodies, drugs, liver disease and skin cancer.

He was visiting Rome on Tuesday to attend a regional planning meeting.

The wasps Lewis uses don’t sting people. However, they are “biological controls.” The wasps can sting pests that live on plants, insert their egg inside the pest and consequently hatch out of the insect.

Lewis said this unique life cycle of the wasp is what led to the discovery that these wasps could be used for much more.

“In the process of doing this, we found you can train them,” explained Lewis.

Lewis said the process of training the wasps is incredibly simple. Since the wasps feed on nectar, they will associate odors that they detect while feeding on sugar water with food.

For example, while feeding on sugar water, the wasps can be introduced to the smell of cocaine. After that, they will seek out cocaine because they associate it with food.

The wasps are then placed in a “wasp hound,” which is a small device with a fan that pulls air over them. Also inserted in the device is a tiny camera

that detects pixels.

When the wasps detect the scent they are looking for, they cluster together around the fan that lets in the air. Against the white back-

ground, the camera can detect when the black wasps cluster together.

“We’ve done comparisons. Dogs can sometimes give a false positive,” explained Lewis. “It’s an early technology, but it’s incredibly keen.”

Because this device can be used remotely, it provides a safe option for finding explosives.

Lewis said the main problem with this technology is fully developing it.

“There’s no existing infrastructure to expand this technology, to pick it up and put it to use,” said Lewis. “It’s about starting a whole new kind of business.”

He was an agricultural research scientist with a speciality of entomology (study of insects).  He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and also for University of Georgia Agriculture Research Center’s Tifton campus, where graduate students did their research under his direction.

Rome News Tribune