We will need COVID tests for years to come, posing challenges for poorer countries. Here’s how trained, virus-detecting bees could be a godsend

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Credit: The Hive
Credit: The Hive

Dutch researchers on [May 10] said they have trained honeybees to stick out their tongues when presented with the virus’s unique scent, acting as a kind of rapid test.

Although it’s a less conventional method than lab tests, the scientists said teaching bees to diagnose the coronavirus could help fill a gap in low-income countries with limited access to more sophisticated technology, like materials for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

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

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InsectSense said it is working on a machine that could train multiple bees simultaneously to make the diagnoses, as well as a biochip that would use genes from the cells that bees smell with to detect the virus. That method would circumvent the need to use live insects, which van der Poel said might be impractical on a large scale.

“If this is going to work, it can be very fast and very cheap,” van der Poel said. “And that would be very convenient.”

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