United Kingdom

Trained bees can 'sniff' out COVID-19 in samples in just SECONDS

Bees have an excellent sense of smell to detect chemicals, such as pheromones, and Dutch scientists are using their natural power to identify samples infected with coronavirus.

Scientists in the bio-veterinary research laboratory at Wageningen University trained the insects by giving them sugary water after as a reward for spotting the virus in samples and no reward after being shown a non-infected sample.  

After numerous tests, the bees were able to spontaneously extend their tongues to receive a reward when presented with an infected sample, said Wim van der Poel, a professor of virology who took part in the project.

The team says that a trained bee is capable of detecting an infected sample in just a few seconds, which drastically reduces wait times of current methods.

After numerous tests, the bees were able to spontaneously extend their tongues to receive a reward when presented with an infected sample, said Wim van der Poel, a professor of virology who took part in the project

'We collect normal honeybees from a beekeeper and we put the bees in harnesses,' he said. 'Right after presenting a positive sample we also present them with sugar water. And what the bees do is they extend their proboscis to take the sugar water.'

Researchers used the Pavlovian condition method to train the bees, which is a learning process through association. 

Each time the bees were exposed to the scent of an infected sample, they received a sugar water reward.

By repeating this action several times, the bees associated the sugar reward with the scent and started sticking their tongue out for the scent alone, with no reward. 

The team says that a trained bee is capable of detecting an infected sample in just a few seconds, which drastically reduces wait times of current methods

And researchers found that a trained bee can detect an infected sample in seconds.   

This is compared to the hours or days it takes traditional methods to return COVID-19 results and using bees is much cheaper, along with being a source for countries where tests are scarce.

However, Dirk de Graaf, a professor who studies bees, insects and animal immunology at Ghent University in Belgium, said he does not see the technique replacing more conventional forms of COVID-19 testing in the near future.

'It is a good idea, but I would prefer to carry out tests using the classic diagnostic tools rather than using honeybees for this,' he said.

'I am a huge bee lover, but I would use the bees for other purposes than detecting COVID-19.' 

Since the coronavirus took hold of the world last year, scientists have been working tirelessly to find better and faster methods for detecting it.

Researchers from the National Veterinary School of Alfort, France trained dogs to detect people infected with the virus by sniffing their armpits

 A recent study in March 2021 found that specially-trained sniffer dogs are able to detect positive cases of COVID-19 more than a week before lab swabs,

Specially-trained dogs can detect people infected with Covid-19 just by sniffing their armpits

Dogs can be trained to detect people infected with coronavirus by sniffing their armpits, a December study found.  

Researchers from the National Veterinary School of Alfort, France, recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out other things and re-trained them to detect Covid-19.  

Because of their famously acute sense of smell, dogs have been used to root out drugs, explosives and even successfully pick up diseases like colon cancer. 

A team of French scientists have now shown man's best friend can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting the virus 75 to 100 per cent of the time.

A number of pilot schemes involving the dogs have been trialled around the world, including in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Finland and Australia. 

Travellers may already have seen the specially trained dogs at some airports, but the researchers are still trying to prove without a doubt that dogs can pick up the scent before the method is fully adopted and rolled out internationally.

The team behind the study hope their findings will mean dogs could be used in parts of the world without the infrastructure for expensive mass testing.

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