Wednesday, 30 Jul, 2008 Science
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Bees to Help Hunt Down Serial Killers

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Scientists consider that by analyzing the techniques used by bumblebees when they search for food, could be helpful in tracking down serial killers.

According to a team of scientists from the University of London, killers avoid any victims near their homes just like bumblebees forage away from the place their live. Such "geographic profiling" is working quite well in bees, which is why scientists believe that future experiments on bees could significantly improve crime-solving. The work of the team is presented in the Royal Society journal Interface.

"We're really hopeful that we can improve the model for criminology," said Dr Nigel Raine, from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL).

Dr Raine is currently working together with Steve Le Comber and a former detective in the United States, Kim Rossmo. They tag bumblebees with small colored numbers and then track their way from the nests to the flower patches.

The team's analysis characterizes the way bees produce a "buffer zone" around their hive. This is the area where they will not forage. The buffer zone is created with the goal of lowering the risk of nest identification by predators and parasites. Such behavior resembles the geographic profile of serial killers stalking their victims.

"Most murders happen close to the killer's home, but not in the area directly surrounding a criminal's house, where crimes are less likely to be committed because of the fear of getting caught by someone they know," explained Dr Raine.

The models used by criminologists will focus on details linked with crime scenes, places where robberies occurred, abandoned cars and even dead bodies, in order to improve the search for a suspect.

"Bees have much simpler brains and so understanding how bees are recruited to flowers is much easier than understanding the complex thoughts of a serial murderer," mentioned Dr Raine.

In a broader research the team looks forward to understand the way one of the most recognizable animals in nature carry on with its daily business.

"Bees are hugely important to ecosystems and also important to humans. Bees' pollination 'services' account for about one in three mouthfuls of food that we eat as humans. They pollinate a huge diversity of our fruit and vegetable crops. If we don't know how bees forage then we don't really understand pollination, and that is quite detrimental to how we feed ourselves; which is becoming an increasing problem with bigger populations," said Dr Raine.

Every movement of the bees is monitored. The team tracks the movements with the help of small Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which are commonly used to monitor stock in warehouses or supermarkets. Researchers glue the tags to the back of the bees and then analyze the way they move in and out of their hive.

Source: BBC News

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