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Landmine-Lovin' Ants

Selective breeding to create ants that build hills over landmines
  [vote for,

Someone should use selective breeding to evolve a species of ant that is attracted to the fumes emitted by landmines. By "fumes", I'm referring to the vapors given off by the explosive material, as well as any by-products associated with landmine manufacturing.

Such an species of ant, if placed in a minefield and allowed to grow and propagate, would be attracted by the smell of any hidden landmines, and as a result, would build anthills over the mines. This would help make the landmines much more visible to people (because they would be covered with anthills), as well as providing a minor physical barrier in the event that someone should step on the mine, which could prevent the landmine from being triggered in the first place.

AntiQuark, Aug 06 2003

Landmine Sniffing Rats http://www.google.c...ines&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
Short article on how pouched rats are trained to sniff out landmines. [AntiQuark]

Ant Insurance http://www.halfbake...20Card_20Protection
For Myrmicinae that eat land mines for breakfast. And they're still hungry. [AntiQuark, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Ant Insurance http://www.halfbake...20Card_20Protection
For Myrmicinae that eat land mines for breakfast. And they're still hungry. [Amos Kito, Oct 04 2004]

[Phototaxis and adaptation of the eyeless Drosophila melanogaster line] http://worm-chip.st...ng_pubmed.2001.html
Selective breeding can produce fruitflies that are attracted or repelled by light. [AntiQuark, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Animal Behavior Genetic Research Methods http://www.dushkin....y/ch02/animal.mhtml
Types of traits that have been altered with selective breeding. [AntiQuark, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Selection experiments: an under-utilized tool http://www.google.c...bred&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
Lengthy how-to guide for selective breeding. [AntiQuark]

Dutch Scientists Train Bomb-Sniffing Wasps http://www.rnw.nl/s...ml/wasps011127.html [AntiQuark, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Dutch Scientists Train Bomb-Sniffing Wasps http://www.rnw.nl/s...ml/wasps011127.html
[krelnik, Oct 04 2004]

C'mere, Ant! http://www.high-tec...her/images/antl.jpg
[thumbwax, Oct 04 2004]

Fact file on the Hymenoptera (Ants and cousins) http://www.cals.ncs...ompendium/ants.html
One page discription [AntiQuark, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Fact File on the Isoptera (termites) http://www.cals.ncs...ndium/termites.html
One page description. [AntiQuark, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]


       Make them fire ants, those make people stay away.
kbecker, Aug 06 2003

       Read the help file. <---------- over there.
sufc, Aug 06 2003

       What the hell do you have against aardvarks?
motive power, Aug 07 2003

       [sufc], it's still a good idea.
FloridaManatee, Aug 07 2003

       I assume either that you (who mention it) don't know what GM is and are using it as a buzzword, or you didn't read AntiQuark's idea all that well. AntiQuark wrote "selective breeding", not "genetically modify". If you've eaten beef, rode a horse, owned a dog, or bought any vegetables or fruits from a supermarket at any point in your life (regardless of your age) you have encountered selective breeding already.   

       Great idea. Anthills would let us know where to send in the big heavy smashing machine.
cameron, Aug 07 2003

       By "selective breeding", I was referring to the process by which an organism is gradually changed over the generations because a person is actively selecting, and breeding, individuals which have desirable characteristics.   

       Chihuahuas and Great Danes are good examples of the result of selective breeding. They're both derived from the same ancient species of wolf-like dog, but over the generations, dog breeders actively selected larger (or smaller) individuals for further breeding.   

       Same can be said about how today's foot-long cobs of corn are derived from prehistoric corn that was only a few inches long. Farmers liked the bigger cobs, so they kept them and discarded the smaller ones.
AntiQuark, Aug 07 2003

       Selective breeding is far from magic. It's a well-understood principle in biology and genetics.   

       If I were to attempt this myself, this is what I would do:   

       1) I would set up a large room that simulates a natural environment, and it would be full of ants.   

       2) One corner of the room would be sprayed with a diluted solution of TNT (see the link on the mine sniffing rats, that's how they train them).   

       3) Some ants would be attracted to the TNT smell, some would be repelled, some wouldn't care.   

       4) Any ants that are not attracted to the TNT odor would then be removed from the room.   

       5) The ants that like the TNT smell would, over the generations, be selected for.   

       6) After many generations, you would have a strain of ant that has an affinity for the odor of TNT.
AntiQuark, Aug 07 2003

       you release your valuable ants out into the field and phoof - gone, all mixed up with ordinary ants. having sex with them too I shouldn't wonder.
po, Aug 07 2003

       You might need bigger land mines. [link]
Amos Kito, Aug 07 2003

       [po] makes a very good point. However, who says the smell of TNT is going to mean anything to them at all? Wouldn't some, if not all, just wind up there randomly?
motive power, Aug 07 2003

       [ravenswood], what the hell do you have against dogs?   

       Buncha animal-haters, you...
motive power, Aug 07 2003

       hey blissy, what about nice fat hairy spiders - a use for them at last.
po, Aug 07 2003

       Good one, AntiQuark. Ants have exceptional senses of smell so you have a good start. You'll have to excuse the nay-sayers as there has been a fair bit of the 'I genetically modified my mother and now my hamster has x-ray vision' kind of idea. One TNT-soaked croissant.   

       To the nay-sayers: It's just forced evolution. Put an artificial pressure on a population to try to breed a specific trait and it will happen. It's just a matter of time. If you don't believe in evolution then the gap is way to wide. If you do then the following story of natural evolution may help.   

       Imagine there's a plant. Every year butterfiles come along and lay eggs on it. Every year, caterpillars hatch from the eggs and eat lots of leaves, particularly the new growth. Say one year, by a random mutation, one of the plants gains a couple of bumps on the leaves. They don't look like butterfly eggs, but they're enough to make a butterfly 1% less likely to lay eggs on those leaves (these butterflies don't like laying eggs where there already are some as it gives the caterpillars less of a chance as they have to compete for food).   

       Now, this plant, with it's 1% advantage over the others is slightly less likely to get eaten into oblivion and therefore slightly more likely to survive the year and slightly more likely to breed next year. Actually, on average, it should be a little healthier than the average plant and, maybe produce a little more pollen and a few more seeds. The plant has an evolutionary advantage over its neighbours.   

       Years later and a few genetic mutations down the line, some of the plant's descendents will have lost their bumps, some will have bigger bumps and some will have bumps of (slightly) varying colours. The ones with bumps that are slightly yellowish (the butterflies' eggs are yellow) again gain over the others and so on.   

       After a good may generations, might it not be possible for a plant with no eyes that could perceive the yellow, and no brain that could perceive the threat, to grow yellow nodules on its leaves that severely reduce the amount it gets chewed by caterpillars.   

       Of course it is. In fact it happened. The butterfly is a heliconius and the plant a variety of passionflower. I don't know which variety, but you can identify it by the raised yellow dots at the base of its leaves.
st3f, Aug 07 2003

       very true st3ffy, and there is a moth that went grey when the towns got smoky and have now reverted to their natural green colour since the smoke has been banished. however this does not resolve the problem of our little friends running away when you release them and no-one has yet explained how their stamping their little feet on a landmine is going to set it off.
po, Aug 07 2003

       Po, I don't think AntiQuark intended the ants to clear mines by detonating the mines themselves. The anthill's purpose would be to serve as a natural marker of a possible mine location. Depending on ant species the hills could be quite easy to see (http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an11360266-27) although they don't even have to get that big.   

       And even though some of the anthills are not populated by the mine-lovin' ants, I'd rather be investigating anthills for possible mines rather than guessing where mines could be. Also, I see this mostly used in post-war scenarios where land mines are a problem for citizens not necessarily for soldiers.
HighRolla, Aug 07 2003

       [C Trebor], I've added a few links on selective breeding. Scientists have bred fruit flies that seek light or darkness, as well as mice that like alcohol. I've also found a few obtuse references to fruit files that were bred to prefer the odor of alcohol or acetic acid.
AntiQuark, Aug 07 2003

       HR, oh ok.   

       btw, you been here a year and not noticed the link button?
po, Aug 07 2003


       Hey, I'm surprised I got off my lazy ass to even post comments... next I will master this thing you call... "linking"
HighRolla, Aug 07 2003

       just click on the link button and stick your URL in there. hey if I can do it...
po, Aug 07 2003

       Good idea, [AntiQuark] and more real than many here seem to think. Dutch scientists have successfully trained wasps to seek out explosives, and believe they could also train them to search for illegal drugs. See link.
krelnik, Aug 07 2003

       My uber-laziness has given me a half-baked idea... I should propose that HalfBakery automatically parses through the comments and puts urls into the links area.
HighRolla, Aug 07 2003

       HR, NO! give the moderators a break - they have enough to do.
po, Aug 07 2003

       [Krelnik] - very cool link. I am amazed and even a little skeptical that parasitic wasps can learn. I like this idea because of the idea of gradually constructing semipermanent markers over mines.   

       I thought of an adjunct idea. If parasitic wasps can be trained to find smells, train big-ass wasps like cicada killers to do the job. Lightly stick a few seeds of some non-native plant onto them. When they land to check out a mine, some seeds will (yes they will!) fall off. The plants then mark the mines.
bungston, Aug 07 2003

       //automatically parses through the comments and puts urls into the links area//
As a matter of fact [HighRolla], I proposed that last November or so, and got widely booed, though [jutta] admitted it she had thought of it and it was on her todo list. I deleted the idea, which was then posted again by [waugsqueke] under the name "<< Auto Link >>".
krelnik, Aug 07 2003

       //OK, [cameron] please explain [snip]// - [C Trebor]   

       Since my last reply there's been plenty text/links to explain it. I assume this is enough for you.
cameron, Aug 07 2003

       po's nailed this one I think: what are the advantages for your ants to _continue_ to favour explosives once they're released into the wild?   

       Dog breeds, and cultivated vegetables, retain distinctive breeds because we continue to apply selection pressures to them. If they were left to go wild, they'd soon revert to characteristics which favour their survival: for example, colonies of feral cats contain many more stocky moggies than fragile Siamese.
JKew, Aug 08 2003

       To counter [po]'s argument - we have selected tomato plants to make big juicy tomatos, so why don't these selected tomatos regress in the wild, crossbreed with jimson weeds and end up offering small, vaguely poisonous red berries? Answer: new tomato plants are planted every year. These special ants are like a crop which is planted over a field - here a minefield. Instead of growing plants, they grow nests. If left alone, they will mix with natives, lose desired traits, etc. This can be remedied by planting a new crop of lab reared ants. Dilution is the solution to pollution: as long as you keep introducing more Landmine Lovin' Ants, this will reduce drift and mixing.
bungston, Aug 08 2003

       Some responses to the critics:   

       //Termites are better than ants...//   

       The links above (Fact Files) say that termites (A) have a smaller wordwide range than ants, and are rarely seen in temperate climates and (B) cause more economic damage than ants due to their love of wood. Ergo, ants are better than termites. Besides, everybody loves ants. Termites suck.   

       //The explosive-seeking trait would be diluted when released into the wild//   

       True, but as [bungston] explained, you would periodically "seed" minefields with the mine-lovin ants.   

       //The explosive-seeking trait would be diluted when released into the wild, part 2//   

       How are we so sure about that? I don't know what the biggest killer of ants is, but I'm guessing that a large component is farmers plowing over anthills. If anthills get the reputation of hiding explosives, then naturally, farmers might avoid plowing anthills. This in itself would be a survival-enhancing trait, that might give these ants an advantage compared to the naturally occurring species.
AntiQuark, Aug 08 2003

       Yah Quark! It did not occur to me that landmine lovin' could enhance fitness.
bungston, Aug 08 2003

       Maybe a better solution would be rats. Lab rats could be trained en masse to dig where they smell mine juice, then released into the field. These rats would scour the field digging after mines - in their cloistered experience the only place tasty treats are to be found. Some sort of marker could fall off them where they dig. Not as elegant as the ants, but rats are cheap, smart, and expendable.
bungston, Aug 08 2003

       One thing that everyone has missed which adds one problem but solves another. The ants in the field cannot breed.   

       What you need to do when breeding the ants is find the queen that lays the eggs that turn into the ants that go after the explosives. Just getting the worker ants wouldn't do any good as they wouldn't breed. But this would hinder the dilution of the land-mind ants as the queen that was released into the field would keep cranking out land-mine seeking ants.
GenYus, Mar 18 2004

       Selective breeding of bees is well-established, so ants should pose few additional problems.   

       Nonetheless, it's a long and difficult idea with an uncertain chance of success, and far inferior to more direct methods of detecting mine by smell (e.g. using dogs), and it's not nice for the ants. So: bah!
kropotkin, Mar 18 2004


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