Dutch researchers have trained bees, which have an unusually keen sense of smell, to identify samples infected with the coronavirus (Covid-19), a finding that they said could cut waiting times for test results to just seconds.
To train the bees, scientists in the bio-veterinary research laboratory at Wageningen University gave them sugary water as a reward after showing them samples infected with Covid-19.
They would get no reward after being shown a non-infected sample.
Having got used to the system, 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.”
The extending of the bees’ straw-like tongues to drink is confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result, according to the researchers.
It can take days to get a Covid test result, but the response from the bees is immediate.
The method is also cheap, making it useful for countries where tests are scarce, they said.
However, Dirk de Graaf, a professor who studies bees, insects and animal immunology at Ghent University in Belgium, said he did not see the technique replacing more conventional forms of Covid-19 testing.
“It is a good idea, but I would prefer to carry out tests using the classic diagnostic tools rather than using honeybees for this. I am a huge bee lover, but I would use the bees for other purposes than detecting Covid-19,” he said.
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