Bees trained to “stick out their tongues” when smelling COVID-19

Dutch scientists are taking advantage of the excellent sense of smell of bees to detect COVID-19, training them to "stick out their tongues".

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The Hague, May 9 (EFE) .- Getting a PCR test has been an unpleasant experience for many during this pandemic, which has led a group of Dutch scientists to seek alternative ways of diagnosis: to take advantage of the excellent sense of smell of bees to detect contagions, training them to “stick out their tongues” every time they smell the changes that COVID-19 causes in the human body.

Bees smelling COVID-19 is impressive

The coronavirus, like many others diseases, causes metabolic changes in the body that cause the body to emit a specific odor. Faced with this, bees, which are capable of locating a flower several kilometers away, can be trained like dogs to recognize the smell given off by samples infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 , and prepare them to be authentic PCR.

They train in a matter of minutes, they are an accessible animal in all countries of the world and, although they cause phobias in certain people, bees can be somewhat more pleasant compared to the swabs used for PCR, which makes this technique, “BeeSense”, is very tempting, especially given the global shortage and the need for diagnostic tests.

Bees smelling COVID-19

Similar to dogs

“The wonderful thing about bees is that they have a very strong olfactory capacity, they are like dogs, and they can detect even minor changes. They can do fascinating things, ”Aria Samimi, director of the Startup InsectSense, told EFE, which joined forces with the Dutch laboratory Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) to do their tests and see how bees can detect whether or not a person is sick with covid-19.

Remember that the confinements decreed in different countries during the pandemic were because “we did not have sufficient diagnostic systems” to separate infected people from the rest, and this is something that “bees can learn in a few minutes, compared to dogs. , and as soon as they learn, they will be able to make the detections in a few seconds ”.


Just beginning

The investigation is still in its early stages. More than 150 bees were trained in the laboratory with samples infected with SARS-CoV-2 from mink and humans, giving them a sugar water solution as a reward when they had to smell the metabolism related to covid-19, which they have been taught to extend the tongue to reach the sweet.

“By repeating this action several times, the bees associated the reward with the aroma as a stimulus. With this repeated conditioning, soon the bees began to extend their tongues just for scent, with no reward being offered as a follow-up, ”the scientists explain. If it goes ahead with all the guarantees, it can become a technique “very useful to prevent and manage future outbreaks” of any large-scale virus, says Samimi.


It’s economic

“It is globally accessible, not only for developed countries but also for those with low incomes,” he insists. Samimi calms the most skeptical who put apiphobia on the table: the idea is not to let the bees roam around airports or hospitals, sticking out their tongues every time they smell covid-19. The approach requires a biosensor, into which the bees would be placed.

People can breathe inside, or through another tool that brings the samples closer to the bees. Therefore, the next step is to work on the “scalability” of this approach and, since bees are accessible globally, the only thing that people need is a machine to be able to train these insects. InsectSense has already developed several prototypes of apparatus that can simultaneously and automatically train several bees, and a biosensor that deploys the trained bees for diagnosis.


What are the risks

“This technology can be a very effective diagnostic system for low-income countries that face challenges in accessing the necessary diagnostic infrastructure and technologies,” the company adds. In principle, there is also no danger of the bees spreading the disease: they are not sensitive to the virus and do not come into direct contact with it during the tests. EFE

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