Enter the maze

Scratch, bite, decay and sniff

a mouldy tomato

Could you tell the smell of a mouldy cucumber leaf? What about the delicate aroma of a tomato plant that's been nibbled at by mites? If not, never fear. Environmental scientists at Lancaster University have just the solution: an electronic nose. Plants are always giving off chemicals (that's what gives them their smell), but after they've been attacked by pests they give off a little bit more. The team at Lancaster have tested an electronic nose as a way for farmers to tell when plants are being attacked.

The scientists let loose a storm of abuse on some unsuspecting cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers - the poor things had to deal with mites, mould and even having holes punched in their leaves. The researchers found the e-nose could detect the small change in the plants' chemical signatures after they'd been attacked. They hope their new discovery could be used to sniff out plant attacks early, before too much damage is done to a farmer's crop.