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Cockroaches Daubed With Yeast As WMD Sensors? 162

Our Man In Redmond writes "OK, yeah, it sounds weird, but it just might work. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have come up with the idea of attaching genetically-modified yeast to the back of a cockroach - or a cockroach-sized robot - and using the yeast to detect chemical or biological agents. The story's in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They point out some other possible nifty uses for the yeast-based technology, like detecting diseases by having a patient blow on a piece of paper 'printed' with the yeast."
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Cockroaches Daubed With Yeast As WMD Sensors?

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  • by obsidianpreacher ( 316585 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:01AM (#7345441)
    Fear not, terrorists, I've got your solution! Just make your WMD in really, really, really bright laboratories! Problem solved!

    *mumble mumble* ... what? Crap, I'm sorry ... gotta go ... some nice men in suits are here and need to talk about some "Patriot Act" or something ... I'll see you in about 20, I guess ...
  • blow... (Score:1, Funny)

    " like detecting diseases by having a patient blow on a piece of paper 'printed' with the yeast."

    now THAT's a blowjob

    • and it's one type you dont have to worry about getting that yeast infection...
      • Re:blow... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        That's not funny. I am one of the rare few men who have had the dubious honor of getting a yeast infection. Fortunately, I found out that I just needed to make some changes in my diet to counteract the negative effects of antibiotics I'd takedn over the years. Antibiotics can do a lot of damage to the body's natural defenses (secndary immune system) unless you are knowledgable enough to supplement your diet with probiotics as far apart from the antibiotics as possible. All I can say is that male yeast
  • Why work on such esoteric stuff when we have tons of people sitting idle?

    They can be our "smart detectors".
  • now we'll have groups complaining about roach cruelty...
    • "now we'll have groups complaining about roach cruelty... "

      Ever wonder if Starship Troopers had to deal with that? There's a propoganda scene with kids squishing cockroaches. Heh.

      I know, I know, I'm not very on-topic here. I just find it interesting that PETA and the like seem to value animal life over human life. During the Iraq War there was some information about specially trained Dolphins that could locate mines without setting them off. They'd relay the info back to a nearby sub so they'd know
      • This is somewhat offtopic as well, but it needs to be pointed out.

        I agree with you that PETA seems to value animal life, more than human life.
        But I also think that the argument could be made that they're hypocrites. I don't expect them to make a big deal about this, and, if they don't, they would be _discriminating against cockroaches_ *gasp*

        What I'm saying, is that they seem to value some animal life more than other animal life. Why? Maybe because cockroaches disgust some of them?
        And that's hypocrisy. If
  • by screwballicus ( 313964 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:08AM (#7345473)
    1) Cockroaches fail to find evidence of WMDs.
    2) Government asserts non-cooperation on part of regime under inspection with cockroaches conducting said inspections.
    3) ???
    4) Democracy!
  • by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot@j a w t h e s h> on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:10AM (#7345481) Homepage Journal
    other possible nifty uses for the yeast-based technology

    Yeah, I know one "nifty" technology based on yeast: it's called "beer" and has been around for thousands of years. Hoooray for yeast! ;-)

  • by arvindn ( 542080 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:11AM (#7345482) Homepage Journal

    I suggest cockroach + robot = "cockrobot" :)

    As an added benefit: "I, for one, welcome our new cockrobot overlords" has a nice ring to it.

  • Detecting WMDs... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:15AM (#7345490) Homepage

    Has become the new "Star Wars" angle for research. Looking for new Funding ? Unsure that it will get approved ? Well see how it could possibly be applied to WMD, it doesn't have to be sensible, it just has to be enough to get the funding. After all there are people of billions of dollars out there who can't find WMD, so your research not doing it either won't change anything.

    This is for the diagnosis of illnesses, pure and simple. And at 2am in a bar when the funding review was at 10am the researchers had an idea.

    • Hmm good point, but at least in this case USA's paranoia / imperialism / big-brotherism generates something useful for the rest of the world. I'd prefer if the Americans pour money into peaceful ways to "detect WMD" instead of sending armies to crush third-world countries, especially if these ways can be applied to useful stuff like medicine.

      Then again, right now, we don't have much defense against biological weapons, whether they come from "terrorists," lunatics or enemy countries. So any developments in
  • O-kaaay... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geekwench ( 644364 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:15AM (#7345492)
    Personally, I'm hoping for the mini-bots to be used in this technique, rather than actual cockroaches. When you look at the type of environment that the little buggers prefer, the Feds would be "finding" chemical and biological agents in every alley dumpster in the country. Not to mention the apartments of a large percentage of bachelor males. At least the robots will presumably go where you want them to.

    Young bachelor to FBI agent: "That's not a biological weapons lab, man; that's my kitchen!

  • So, I guess I can rest assured that the guy down the road baking baguettes isn't a terrorist then? ;)

    • by peterpi ( 585134 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @07:20AM (#7345987)
      Why not have him take the 4-step Dubyamatic Terrorism Survey?
      1. Do you have skin darker than a manilla envelope? If no, go to (4)
      2. Do you have a beard? If no, go to (4)
      3. Congratualtions, you are a terrorist!
      4. Unfortunately, you are not a terrorist this time. We encourage you to take the Dubyamatic Terrorism Survey again at a later date.
  • by writertype ( 541679 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:23AM (#7345524)
    Weapons of mass destruction. Biological outbreaks of plague. Medical sensors. Bah.

    There is one purpose for which yeast, and yeast research, should be put. Beer. Better beer. Beer that tastes great, but is less filling. Beer that I can drink until snookered, then wake up from the next day, hangover free.


    Any questions?

  • by rf0 ( 159958 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:39AM (#7345569) Homepage
    OK this is cool You send the coachroaches out into an area where there is WMD. How do you check the yeast? Have the coachroacges on a really long leash? :)

    • "OK this is cool You send the coachroaches out into an area where there is WMD. How do you check the yeast? Have the coachroacges on a really long leash? :)"

      Release the cockroaches, rent an apartment in Baghdad, and put a geiger counter under the sink. When a loud clicking noise wakes you up at 3am, call Geraldo. He'll draw a map for the good guys and the bad guys.
    • OK this is cool You send the coachroaches out into an area where there is WMD. How do you check the yeast? Have the coachroacges on a really long leash? :)
      like this []...
      • "They are a little bit smelly, and there's something about the way they move their antennae. But they look nicer when you put a little circuit on their backs and remove their wings."

        Man, you so know this guy pulled the wings off of flies when he was a little tyke.
    • Yeah, I wondered about that too. I figured they'd put some kind of small transmitter on the cockroach's back to signal if they got a positive read from the yeast.

      Or, they'd take the Rumsfeld approach and just hook the detector to the world's tiniest nuclear weapon. The yeast changes color, and BLAM! Problem solved.

      Of course then you have to worry about the 40-foot cockroach . . .
      • Of course then you have to worry about the 40-foot cockroach . . .

        Maybe you know something I don't, but I'd consider it rather conspicuous trying sneak a 40-foot cockroach into someplace to check for Windows Media Devices.

    • Don't cockroaches react to certain chemicals that can be used as bait?

      So you could send them out, then use a bait-laden trap to capture them again. I don't really see it working as an early-warning system though...
    • ... just have a cockroach with a tiny little camera strapped to its back go in behind the yeast roach.
    • Obviosly you are not familiar with terms of government sponsored research.
      a. it does not have to make sense
      b. collecting the results from runaway roaches might as well be the topic of the new round of research (and funding) for the next year.
  • 1) Get a cockroach
    2) Get some yeast
    3) ???
    4) WMDs!

  • Doctor (Score:4, Funny)

    by jabbadabbadoo ( 599681 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @04:40AM (#7345576)
    Doctor: "Sir, can you blow on this piece?" (points on a piece of papers, but the patient doesn't notice.)

    Patient blows.

    Doctor: "Ehmmm. You have herpes."

    Patient: "What? One blow, and you say I have herpes?"

  • Haven't they learn from Hollywood movies? In the most critical moment, a bad guy will squash the spy-roach under his boot and the good guys will have to find another way to get what they want.
  • Aaah (Score:2, Insightful)

    And when you get them back you can use them to make Vegemite []
    • Insightful? What the? Where do you mods get off? Vegemite is an Australian spread (one might say icon, even though the yanks bought it out years ago) not cockroach puree.

      And I don't think we'd want our happy little vegemites to glow in the dark after smearing some chemical weapons yeast extract, either. Roses in cheeks just wouldn't be in it then.
  • by varjag ( 415848 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @05:01AM (#7345636)
    So, the USA not just destroys Iraqi infrastructure to stone age, they now want to flood the ruins with yeast-infected cockroaches?

    No limits to human cruelty..
  • Emmm... (Score:3, Funny)

    by richie2000 ( 159732 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2003 @05:01AM (#7345637) Homepage Journal
    Cockroaches Daubed With Yeast As WMD Sensors?

    So if they are still alive when all humans are gone, we'll know it was a really, really good weapon. What? Oh...

  • I for one.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Channard ( 693317 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @05:02AM (#7345642) Journal
    .. welcome our new bread-making anthrax-detecting apocalypse-surviving insect overlords.
  • Finally, a little yeast on the back of every SCO bigwig, folks of the MPAA, RIAA, MS Employees, and most government officials...and they're useful again!

    Who said we couldn't find good uses for vermin?
  • and with the correct software they will be able to provide "proof" that saddam actually had WMD's.
    Better than letting those robots search for weapons they should be used to help rescue workers in saving lifes. I think the small form factor would make it easy to let them search for survivors under collapsed buildings after earth quakes or - as we saw in Russia lately - help examine tunnels or mine shafts for survivors after accidents. Why does research always drift in the military direction? *sigh*
  • The discussion on the yeast in the story seems like the easy part (IANABC-I am not a Biologist-Chemist), but making a cockroach that has enough power, is controllable (either remotely or through AI), and is actually useful would be the hard part.

    The civilized world has more to fear from the development of technology like this than the terrorists do. A cockroach is less of a threat to a terrorist hiding in a cave (they can find a new cave or have a pet snake to eat the cockroaches), verses nations that
    • Although Swimming Cockroach Robots [] are already in the works, I'm actually much more worried about terrorists developing this [].
    • "... but making a cockroach that has enough power, is controllable (either remotely or through AI), and is actually useful would be the hard part. "

      Sandia Labs has a number of 1 cubic inch robot "critter" designs. They are used in a "swarm" to cooperatively pinpoint threat (e.g., chemical release) locations and map threat contours. I saw several videos on this technology last month, and it's impressive.

  • mmm... cockroaches daubed with yeast...

  • by Zog The Undeniable ( 632031 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @05:47AM (#7345756)
    Won't the bad guys just buy a few cans of pyrethrin lacquer (the stuff you spray around ant holes). "I'm sorry, Mrs. Roach, but your husband is missing presumed dead. He crawled for what he believed in."
  • will be easy to spot the terrorist hiding WMD since they'll have huge collection of frogs, reptiles, birds and sharks with frickin' "laser" beams attached to their heads protecting their lair of WMD.
  • Directions:

    1. Get access to your server.
    2. Blow yeast on it.
    3. ???
    4. If yeast turns green, there's a patch coming out soon. If it turns red, well, you're screwed.
  • ... that it's a very bad idea to mix anything "genetically modified" and "cockroach"... Mimic anyone ? Am I the only one that envisions frothing swarms of sentient, mansized, flesh eating, multiplying-at-the-rate-of-yeast-bacteriae cockroaches surging out of Manhattans' manholes ?

    On a brighter note, it could also spawn a new breed of crunchy luxury beer called "Skuttlebrau"

  • ...the only W.M.D. the cockies will detect is a can of Mortein or Raid, yeast or not! Pfffssst!
  • That's not a open container of beer . It's a mobile WMD detection device!

  • First the Navy trains dolphins to swim into mines, then the gov'ment is sending innocent cockroaches into the most hazardous sites without protection! Wait until PETA hears of this.
  • Sorry, but at this point, the idea to 'infest' a country with cockroaches because they're suspected of harboring WMDs sounds like little more than a reaaally big contract for the Orkin Man.
  • I'm sure someones said it already, but how are they supposed to get the cockroach back?

    Do they send the cockroach with its yeasty sensors off in search of WMD, and then sit outside waiting for it to come back. Are cockroaches trainable or something. Am I missing something here?

    I suppose homing pigeons have been be a bit obvious, and I guess if you send in enough cockroaches, one is bound to come back.

  • In other news, sales of 'Raid' have increased dramatically in the middle-east.
  • Now, only terrorists and "rogue" natious will have boric acid...
  • Who needs the yeast? if the cockroaches die, chaces are theres WMD in whatever building youre searching.
    • A cockroach can survive just about anything; something has to be really nasty to kill one. Hell, that's why they'd use cockroaches in the first place; they'll come back alive, even after days of living in conditions that would kill an unprotected human.
  • ... Cockaroaches ARE WMDs.

    "Oh good, here come the Americans with a nasty disease carrying pest which can not be killed."

    Not From Concentrate.
  • by sryx ( 34524 )
    Ok am I the only one who read the article title and thought "Windows Media Devices"? I guess cockroaches would be the best agents to find those suckers! :P
  • Y'know, for 50 years or so, Weapons of Mass destruction were clearly defined as huclear fission 'A' or hydrogen fusion 'H' bombs.

    Suddenly two years ago GWB decides that Biological, Chemical and Radioactive "dirty" bombs are now WMDs.

    Let's be clear about this. Them beer-dipped roaches are not going to find any nukes ...

  • Say the yeast is engineered to detect human disease. Then a doctor could print up a yeast card, have a patient breathe on it and determine what illness the person has, Brinker said.
    And what if you have really bad breath? Will it tell you that you have cancer? Makes you wonder.
  • A friend of mine (who is a total pervert, deep into "upskirt" business and who even runs his own website [] dedicated to voyeurism deviation -- hi, Igor) told me recently that "an old-school shoe pinhole camera can only get us this far -- there are serious limitations which we need to overcome if we really want this industry to evolve." I am sure he could find a good use for these cockroaches as soon as they hit the mainstream market being equipped with a wireless mini camera. I can already see www.cock-roache

About the time we think we can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends. -- Herbert Hoover