Honeybees are tremendous frontline detectors of illegal drugs, landmines, female fertility cycles, diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer and COVID-19.
Bees rely heavily upon scent to perform daily activities. A worker bee’s head has two antennae loaded with 3000 sensory organs. Its ability to distinguish more than 170 odors in the wild is vital for smelling nectar, pollen, water, tree resin and pheromones (animal scents).
For 25 years, scientists have been training bees using a Pavlovian conditioning method to accurately recognize more than 60 man-made odors, ranging from methamphetamine to TNT, enriched uranium and many human diseases.
In order to identify a scent the chemicals are mixed into a sugary liquid that the bees are rewarded with, laced with a hit of caffeine. The process is repeated up to five times, at which point the bees associate the smell with food. Thereafter, when a bee encounters a desirable scent, its reflexes cause it to extend its proboscis (tongue) to lap up the nectar – a reflex that the scientists are easily able to measure.
European researchers at InsectSense have successfully trained honeybees, with a 95 percent accuracy rate, to sniff for COVID-19. Bees are in effect a low-cost detector of coronavirus, which spares sniffer dogs from becoming infected with this dreadful disease.
InsectSense have developed a prototype machine that uses multiple bees as biosensors. After their shift, the bees are returned unharmed to the hive. This technology ‘BeeSense’ is a robust diagnostic system for low-income countries that face challenges in accessing infrastructure and high-tech technologies.
Our sanctified smart sistren are rescuing us, again. Three cheers for the incomparable honeybees!
Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.
Dr Reese Halter’s latest book is now available!