Dutch Researchers Train Bees to Detect Covid-19 Infection

UMMATIMES - Dutch researchers have trained bees, which have an unusually sharp sense of smell, to identify samples infected with Covid-19, a finding they say could shorten the waiting time for a coronavirus test result to just a few seconds.

To train the bees, scientists at the bio-veterinary research laboratory at Wageningen University gave them sweet water as a reward after showing samples infected with Covid-19. Bees will not receive a reward after being shown a sample that is not infected with the corona virus.

Once accustomed to the system, bees can spontaneously stick out their tongues to receive rewards when presented with infected samples, said Wim van der Poel, a virology professor who took part in the project.

"We collect normal honey bees from beekeepers and we put bees on safety ropes," said van der Poel.

"As soon as they give them a positive sample, we also give them sugar water. And what the bees do is stretch out the tendrils to get the sugar water," he said.

Elongating the bee's straw-like tongue for drinking is confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result, according to the researchers.

It can take hours or days to get a Covid-19 test result, but bees are responding quickly.

The method is also cheap, so it could be useful in countries where Covid-19 testing capacity is scarce, researchers said.

But Dirk de Graaf, a professor who studies bees, insects and animal immunology at Ghent University in Belgium, said he won't be looking at a technique that replaces the more conventional form of Covid-19 testing anytime soon.

"That's a good idea, but I prefer to do the test using the classic diagnostic tool instead of using honeybees for this. I am a bee lover, but I would use bees for other purposes than detecting COVID-19," he said.

The "bug sniffing" technique was effectively tested by the US Department of Defense for detecting explosives and poisons in the 1990s, De Graaf said.

"Moths, bees and wasps are used for safety purposes to detect explosives as well as for medical diagnosis," he said.

But too little is known about Wageningen's testing to determine its true effectiveness, he said, although he is open to the idea of ​​bee testing providing an indication of Covid-19 disease when PCR tests are not available.