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Scientists in the Netherlands have taught bees to smell the coronavirus

Researchers in the Netherlands have trained bees to detect coronavirus infections. Bees have a keen sense of smell. This can be used to identify samples belonging to people infected with COVID-19. Researchers say that this cuts the waiting time to a matter of seconds. Read along to find out more.

How can bees detect coronavirus infections?

Just like dogs, bees learn how to do tasks and tricks. Researchers at the bio-veterinary research lab at the Wageningen University, trained bees using positive reinforcement. Bees received sugary water if they correctly identified samples positive for COVID-19. However, if they selected a non-infected sample, they did not get the reward.

“Once (the bees) trained in this 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 virologist who is a part of the study. “We collect normal honeybees from a beekeeper and we put the bees in harnesses. 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.” he added. Hence, according to the study, if the bees extend their tounges, it confirms a positive COVID-19 sample.

Revolutionary insect sniffing technique

The technique is a gamechanger as it takes anywhere between two hours to two days to get test results. The response from the bees is immediate. ‘Insect sniffing’ was first effectively tested by the US Department of Defence. It helped in detecting toxins and explosives. However, very little is known about its effectiveness.

However, Dirk de Graaf, a researcher who works on insect and animal immunology at Belgium’s Ghent University believes that this technique will not replace the conventional testing methods. “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 commented.