macro photo of black fly

IUPUI researchers discovered that blowflies may be utilized as chemical sensors, with a special focus on the monitoring of chemical warfare weapons.

Although chemical weapons are prohibited by international agreements, they are nonetheless used on occasion to gravely harm people all over the world.

Investigators may have found an odd ally in the form of blowflies, which feast on waste and dead corpses.

Blowflies are all over the world

Macro Photo of Black Fly

(Photo : Thierry Fillieul/Pexels)


Where people may be stymied by danger or bureaucratic red tape, blowflies may fly freely and gather samples in their stomachs.

The research was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The study was made possible by funding from the United States.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is an acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Blowflies are everywhere, and they are very good at sampling the world around us, according to Christine Picard, an associate professor of biology and the head of the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program at IUPUI’s School of Science, as per ScienceDaily.

They will fly through the surroundings, taste it, and store the knowledge in their guts.

Researchers were able to investigate how different environmental conditions affected the detection of chemical warfare simulants through a series of studies.

Picard’s research on chemical weapons is still in its early phases.

So far, she and her colleagues have carried out proof-of-concept studies by feeding blowflies compounds that are comparable to chemical weapons but do not represent a threat to people, as cited by Inside Science.

The molecules remained detectable in the blowflies’ stomachs two weeks after the feedings, suggesting that wild blowflies may retain chemicals of interest in their bodies for a long time following a suspected chemical attack.

Picard presented the findings at a virtual conference of the Entomological Society of America last month.

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Detection of chemical compounds by using blowflies

Nick Manicke, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology as well as forensic and investigative sciences at IUPUI, led the team of students that conducted the research with a chemical weapon simulant.

A chemical weapon simulant is comparable to true chemical warfare agents in terms of molecule behavior, but it is not dangerous to humans.

It is also similar to pesticides, which are chemically similar to chemical warfare agents in terms of molecule behavior.

The researchers employed three distinct chemicals that were designed to imitate a class of chemical weapons known as nerve agents.

Sarin, which has been used against people in the ongoing Syrian civil conflict, and VX, which was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, in 2017.

Two of the three chemicals employed in the study persisted in the intestines of the blowflies for a long time after they were ingested, with the exact length changing between individual flies and environmental factors.

Increased temperature, for example, accelerated the flies’ metabolisms, leading them to eliminate the chemicals more quickly.

Dichlorvos, the third drug they examined, is likewise used as a pesticide and killed all of the flies exposed to it.

This raises a crucial point: real nerve agents would most certainly kill flies as well, according to Manicke.

Furthermore, most genuine nerve agents degrade faster than the chemicals they tested, so even if the real nerve agents did not kill the flies, they would most likely not survive as long in their bellies.

However, this does not imply that the blowfly strategy would be ineffectual. According to Manicke, as nerve agents degrade, they leave behind other molecules that are harmless and can linger for years.

In real-world investigations, it is more likely that these breakdown products, rather than the nerve agents themselves, would be found in flies.

Following that, the researchers intend to undertake feeding tests using nerve agent breakdown products.

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