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Bees trained to identify COVID-19 infection within seconds

NETHERLANDS: Dutch researchers in the Netherlands have trained bees, which have a particularly acute sense of smell, to detect COVID-19 within seconds using their sense of smell, according to a press release from Wageningen University.

In Wageningen University’s bio-veterinary research laboratory, more than 150 bees were used in the research.

To train the bees, scientists gave them a treat – a sugar-water solution every time the bees were exposed to the smell of a mink contaminated with COVID-19. After seeing a non-infected sample, they would receive no reward.

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The bees eventually learned to recognise a contaminated sample in a matter of seconds, and they would stick out their tongues like clockwork to catch the sugar water.

“We bring normal honeybees from a beekeeper and place them in harnesses.” “We also give them sugar water right after we give them a positive sample. The bees take the sugar water by extending their proboscis,” said Wim van der Poel, a professor of virology who took part in the project.

Besides bees, the researchers have also taught dogs to accurately differentiate between positive and negative COVID-19 samples from human saliva or sweat. Dogs could correctly classify positive COVID-19 samples 94% of the time, according to a small German report.

That’s because of the coronavirus’s metabolic changes, infected people’s bodily fluids smell significantly different from non-infected people’s.

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However, scientists are still unsure on whether animals are the best option for sniffing out COVID-19 cases outside of the lab.

“No one is saying they can substitute a PCR unit,” said Holger Volk, a veterinary neurologist, in a statement to Nature. Lab technicians use PCR machines to process regular COVID-19 swab tests. At the very least, such animals may aid in the detection of COVID-19 in areas or countries where high-tech laboratory equipment is scarce or unavailable.

Moreover, Wageningen University researchers, for example, are developing a prototype of a machine that can train several bees simultaneously and then use their skills to detect coronavirus aerosols (tiny virus-laden particles) in the environment.

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