Netherlands University Trains Bees to Sniff Out People With COVID-19

First dogs, now bees can be used to identify people infected with the COVID-19 virus, The Hill reported Saturday.

According to the report, scientists at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands say they trained more than 150 bees to detect samples of the virus from its scent.

In its May 3 press release, the university said it partnered with a start-up, InsectSense, to train the bees to stick out their tongues when they smelled the virus.

Bees, like dogs, are extremely sensitive to the metabolic changes in an infected body that cause a smell and detect the odor in minutes, the university’s press release said.

“Bees can detect volatiles with a sensitivity of parts per trillion,” the release said. “For example, they find a flower a few kilometers away. Bees, like dogs, can learn to detect volatiles and odors, but with just a few minutes of training.”

The bees were trained using the Pavlovian Method where each time they were exposed to the scent of a COVID infected sample, they were rewarded with a sugar water solution, according to the university, which said the training protocol only took a few minutes to complete.

Because bees exist throughout the planet, they could prove a highly effective diagnostic system in low-income countries where machines could be developed to quickly train them and then deploy them via a second small machine to diagnose people, the release said.

Many of those countries currently lack the infrastructure or high-tech solutions wealthier countries use to test for the virus.

Wageningen University Research is a collaboration between Wageningen University and the Wageningen Research Foundation, according to the school.

At the school, more than 12,500 students and 6,500 employees from more than 100 countries work to study healthy food and living environments for business and government communities, the school said.

“Not all laboratories have that, especially in smaller-income countries,” Wim van der Poel, a professor at Wageningen University told The Hill. “Bees are everywhere, and the apparatus is not very complicated.”

The professor said while the study has not yet been reviewed by peers, the results show a roughly 95% effective rate on detection of the virus by using multiple insects per sample.

In March, The Hill published a story about using dogs to detect infected individuals at a NASCAR event in Atlanta.

The dogs were used at Atlanta Motor Speedway during the Cup Series Race, according to the report.

Two teams of dogs from 360 K9 Group were deployed to sniff essential workers, NASCAR officials, race teams, and vendors entering the track, according to the story.

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