Bees successfully trained to stick out tongue when smelling coronavirus

Bees can smell very well: they can detect a flower from miles away. In Lelystad, it was investigated with 150 bees whether they could be trained quickly to select corona infections from tests taken with a cotton swab.

The bees were trained by Wageningen Bioveterinary Research, part of Wageningen University & Research, and the InsectSense company. A French university also contributed to the research into the possibility of using bees to fight the corona virus.

“Every time the bees were exposed to the scent of an infected sample, they received a sugar water reward,” the researchers report. “The bees put out their tongues to catch the sugar water.”

Possibly very reliable

By doing that more than once, the bees associated the sugar reward with the scent and started sticking out their tongues for the scent alone, with no reward. Tongue sticking out is seen by a biosensor.

According to the researchers, the method has ‘the potential to be very reliable’, because it works with three to five bees per diagnosis. They cannot give exact success rates yet.

Bees can still be found worldwide, the researchers say, and can be used a few times as a corona detector. Then they can be released. According to the researchers, it is very unlikely that the bees will carry virus particles further after their ‘work’, but this is also being investigated further.

Read the result immediately

In addition to bees, equipment is needed to train bees, to house trained bees and the biosensor is needed to register the sticking out of the tongues. According to the researchers, the bee tests will be ‘much cheaper than the current tests and systems already in the initial phase’, because the necessary machines are simple and the test results can be read immediately.

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