Bees Can Sniff out the Coronavirus

May 12, 2021

Bees are clever insects. Just as with dogs, you can teach them to recognise volatile substances and smells. Because viruses generate smells, you can also use bees to recognise diseases. Researchers from the startup InsectSense and Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (part of WUR) wondered whether they could also use this knowledge in the fight against the coronavirus. And it turns out it can be done.

How do you teach a bee to identify a smell?

The startup InsectSense and Wageningen Bioveterinary Research have recently taught bees to detect the coronavirus. They did this by exposing bees to the scent of SARS-CoV-2 and then rewarding them with sugar water. The bee then sticks out its tongue to collect the sugar water. After being rewarded several times, the bee associates the coronavirus smell with the sugar water.

Once the link has been established, this even works without providing the reward and the trained bees can be used to identify infected people.

From a concept to using bees for diagnosis

Bees are quick learners: they only need a few minutes of training. However, this does require a machine that can train the bees. InsectSense has developed a prototype of this machine that can automatically train several bees at the same time and a biosensor in which trained bees can be used for diagnoses.

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