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The researchers say they chose the honeybee because of its exceptional olfactory sense, which they say rivals that of dogs. ((Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

Scientists at a U.S. military research facility have developed a method of training honeybees to sniff out explosives, an advancement they say will protect troops and citizens at home and abroad.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico said on Monday they have trained the bees to act as if sensing nectar when exposed to vapours from TNT, C4 and other explosives and propellants.

The natural reaction of a honeybee to nectar is to stick out its proboscis, the long, slender tube-like tongue it uses to feed.

The researchers said they chose thehoneybee because of its exceptional olfactory sense, which they say rivals that ofdogs. But until now scientists had been puzzled as to what made one bee's sense of smell better than another.

Scientists involved inthe Stealthy Insect Sensor Project looked at genetic and physiological differences between honeybees with good olfaction and those without and also searched for biochemical ways to advance the ability of the insects to be trained.

The main targets of the trained bees are improvised or "homemade" explosive devices that the lab said pose a threat toAmerican troops abroad and civilians around the world.

It's not the first time honeybees have been harnessed as bomb-sniffers.

Researchers at the University of Montana have been working for years to train honeybees to locate landmines by feeding sugar with small quantities of TNT, then slowly adding more TNT until the bees are programmed to seek it out.

The researchers then track the swarms of bees and see where they land.