Bees are miraculous critters that play an essential role in feeding the world through pollination. However, Dutch scientists have tapped into another one of their valuable attributes to help identify cases of Covid-19: their acute sense of smell.
When someone is infected with Covid-19, the disease triggers metabolic changes in the body, much like other illnesses. This results in a faint change in the scent the body emits. Researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Dutch startup InsectSense have trained bees to stick out their tongues when they detect a smell that indicates that the individual’s body is infected with the Covid-19 virus. This approach is similar to how researchers have trained dogs to detect cancer, but while dogs require constant training to learn this behavior, bees can be taught in mere minutes.
The researchers at WUR and InsectSense believe that waiting times for test results can be minimized with this technique. They trained the bees by rewarding them with sugary water after showing them samples infected with Covid-19, but not giving them anything if they were offered samples that were not infected. The bees quickly linked the scent with the sugary water, triggering them to extend their tongues when faced with an infected test sample. The bees can identify an infected sample within seconds, which is an improvement upon the hours and sometimes days it takes to get a result from a conventional test.
The study included over 150 bees and Covid-19 samples with testing conducted at a WUR Biosafety laboratory. The results were promising and demonstrated a low percentage of false negatives and false positives. InsectSense hopes to continue studying insect behavior and its underlying molecular biology to bring more relevant solutions in disease diagnostics to the table. The next step for the team is already in action—they are creating a machine that can automate the training of the bees for the testing method, and have already developed prototypes for this device.
Source Image: Wageningen University & Research