BEES could be used as the next weapon to fight the war on terror, thanks to a small Hertfordshire research company.

Inscentinel Ltd in Harpenden, which leases a laboratory at the Rothamsted Research Centre, has been developing a unique project based on sniffer bees reacting to the scent of explosives.

The company, which has only three scientists, was set up four years ago to work on a way to use the bee's incredible sense of smell as a security measure.

Now the "black box" housing the bees could be arriving at railfreight depots and even airports and train stations in a year's time to sniff out explosives such as those used in the London bombings or those which disrupted the airports last summer.

Stephen James, the managing director of the company, said: "You don't actually see the bees because they are kept in a kind of black box' - when people walk past the box a pump inside draws a slow flow of air over them.

  • See the sniffer bees in action here

"When the trained bees detect the smell of explosives they naturally react by sticking out their tongues which is picked up on image analysis software and converted into an alarm.

"To rule out false alarms the software only reacts when all the bees stick out their tongues."

Each bee can recognise one smell and they only take ten minutes to train, whereas sniffer dogs take up to three months, which is why the bees were chosen for the project.

The company has also discovered bees can be trained to detect a number of smells including TB on breath and even dry rot.

The idea is now in its advance developing stages and the company is looking at engineering issues and increasing the number of bees in the system with backing from the Home Office and Government security agencies.

Mr James said: "We are really pleased that so much of the project has been greeted with enthusiasm, with Japan and America inquiring about it already.

"Having access to all the information available at the Rothamsted Research Centre has helped a great deal.

"We believe it is a very cost-effective system costing a few thousand pounds, whereas traditional security equipment costs thousands more."