Can bees help speed up Covid detection? A group of Dutch scientists believe so and are training honeybees to sniff out the novel coronavirus.
A technological startup 'InsectSense' and the Wageningen Bioveterinary Research claim they have taught these winged insects to smell and detect the virus that the world is grappling with.
According to an official statment released by the Wageningen University, bees can detect volatiles with a sensitivity of parts per trillion.
Using the Pavlovian conditioning method, the bees were trained to detect the SARS-CoV-2 infected samples. Each time, a bee was exposed to the scent from a COVID+ve sample, it was rewarded with sugar water. At the same time, every time they sniffed a non-infected sample, they got nothing in return.
The bees were quick to associate the sugar reward with the scent as the stimulus, and soon started sticking their tongues out for the scent alone, even when no reward was offered as a follow-up.
This action was repeated several times with over 150 bees at the Biosafety laboratory with different training setups to decide upon the most optimum training protocol.
The researchers are now working on the scalability of this approach.
InsectSense has developed the prototypes of a machine that can train multiple bees simultaneously and a biosensor to deploy the trained ones for diagnosis. 'BeeSense', they feel, can be an effective diagnostic system for low-income countries where technological presence is scarce or inaccessible.