Scientists in the Netherlands have trained bees to detect COVID-19 cases using their sense of smell, yielding results in seconds, according to a press release from Wageningen University. The study used water-sugar rewards to condition the bees to extend their tongues when they detect metabolic changes that are caused in the human body by SARS-CoV-2 infections. Bees used infected samples to stimulate their senses, essentially leading them to expect the sugar-water when the scent of the metabolic changes was present. Apparently, the training can be done in minutes, at least based on the 150 bees used in the sample trials.
Start-up InsectSense and Wageningen Bioveterinary Research have trained bees to extend their tongues when they smell the coronavirus. The coronavirus, like other diseases, causes metabolic changes in the body that causes a smell. Bees can detect volatiles with a sensitivity of parts per trillion. For example, they find a flower a few kilometres away. Bees, like dogs, can learn to detect volatiles and odors, but with just a few minutes of training.
The samples used in the first experiments were collected from healthy and SARS-CoV-2 infected minks. In the experiments with the mink-samples, several bees indicated very good results and were able to distinguish the infected samples and those from healthy animals with very low numbers of false positives and false negatives. Similar results were also achieved in later experiments with human samples as well.
Apart from this technology, InsectSense is also now working with scientists from Wageningen University & Research on ‘LumiNose technology’, a biochip that involves using insect genes which can be applied for accurate detection of volatile substances. The technology is further integrated with machine learning technology for fingerprinting volatiles. This technology will test rapidly and will be non-invasive, cost-effective and highly accurate, and can even recognize the severity of a disease.