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How Can Bees Help Detect the Coronavirus?

Bees, with their acute sense of smell, can be trained to detect COVID-19 by associating the virus's scent with a reward. This innovative approach could lead to rapid, non-invasive testing methods. Imagine a world where bees contribute to our health security. How might these tiny creatures revolutionize diagnostics? Join us as we examine the buzzing potential of bees in science.

It's always good to have allies in a fight, especially if those allies have wings and stingers. Case in point: Earlier this year, Dutch researchers announced that they had enlisted honeybees in the ongoing effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Bees have a particularly keen sense of smell, and although humans might not notice it, the virus gives off a particular scent. With the help of a sugar-water solution, the scientists trained the bees to stick out their tongues whenever they sensed the presence of the virus in the sample.

Scientists trained bees to stick out their tongue when they smell coronavirus, providing a low-tech testing method.
Scientists trained bees to stick out their tongue when they smell coronavirus, providing a low-tech testing method.

This development could be lifesaving in places that can't afford more expensive testing methods. "Not all laboratories have that, especially in smaller-income countries," said said lead researcher Wim van der Poel, a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. "Bees are everywhere, and the apparatus is not very complicated."

Van der Poel said that the bee-testing process was highly accurate, especially if multiple insects are used to confirm the results. While dogs have also been considered for virus detection, the abundance and ease of handling bees makes them ideal, van der Poel said.

Bee there, done that:

  • Bees have four wings, but two of them hook together to form one large wing on each side for flying.

  • The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by humans.

  • Theoretically, a bee could fly around the world on the fuel of a single ounce of honey.

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    • Scientists trained bees to stick out their tongue when they smell coronavirus, providing a low-tech testing method.
      Scientists trained bees to stick out their tongue when they smell coronavirus, providing a low-tech testing method.