Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 118–130 | Cite as

Detection and Discrimination of Mixed Odor Strands in Overlapping Plumes Using an Insect-Antenna-Based Chemosensor System

  • Andrew J. Myrick
  • Kye Chung Park
  • John R. Hetling
  • Thomas C. BakerEmail author


Olfactory signals, a major means of communication in insects, travel in the form of turbulent odor plumes. In terrestrial environments, an odor blend emitted from a single point source exists in every strand of the plume, whereas, in confluent plumes from two different odor sources, the strands have some chance of being coincident and comprising a new third odor in those strands. Insects have the ability to detect and interpret necessary olfactory information from individual filamentous odor strands in complex multifilament odor plumes. However, behaviorists have had no way to measure the stimulus situations they are presenting to their temporally acute insect subjects when performing Y-tube olfactometer or confluent pheromone plume wind tunnel assays. We have successfully measured the degree of plume-strand mixing in confluent plumes in a wind tunnel by using a multichannel insect-antenna-based chemosensor. A PC-based computer algorithm to analyze antennal signals from the probe portion of the system performed real-time signal processing and, following a short training session, classified individual odorant/mixture strands at sub-second temporal resolution and a few tens of millimeters of spatial resolution. In our studies, the chemosensor classified a higher frequency of strands of two different odorants emitted from two closely spaced filter papers as being “mixed” when the sources were located only 1 or 2 cm apart than when the sources were 5 or 10 cm apart. These experiments demonstrate the chemosensor’s potential to be used for measuring odor stimulus situations in more complex multiple-plume environments.


Electroantennogram Insect antennae Odor detection Odor strand Odor plume Tissue-based chemosensor Volatile detection Odor strand detection Odor strand discrimination 



We dedicate this paper to the late Dr. Jan van der Pers of Syntech (Hilversum, The Netherlands) for his passionate devotion to developing wonderful research tools for insect olfaction and for providing a basis, through his lifelong research and technology development efforts, for understanding the rudiments of insect pheromone and host-odor olfaction. We also thank Bryan Banks, Penn State University, for rearing the test insects and Drs. Junwei Zhu and Samuel Ochieng for helpful comments related to earlier versions of this study. This research was funded initially by the Controlled Biological Systems Program of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and subsequently by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), through grants to TCB at Iowa State University (DARPA) and at Penn State University (ONR Counter-IED Program; DTRA). This research was also supported by a Keystone Alliance grant from the State of Pennsylvania, through Penn State University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding support from these sources.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew J. Myrick
    • 1
  • Kye Chung Park
    • 1
    • 3
  • John R. Hetling
    • 2
  • Thomas C. Baker
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Entomology, Center for Chemical EcologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Bioengineering DepartmentUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Canterbury Research CenterHortResearchLincolnNew Zealand

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