Scientists in the Netherlands have trained bees to identify COVID-19 using their sense of smell, a Wageningen University press release specified.
ScienceAlert reported the study was conducted on over 150 bees in the bio-veterinary research laboratory of Wageningen University.
The experts trained these insects by giving them a treat, say, a sugar-water solution, each time they got exposed to an odor of a mink infected with the virus.
In the said experiments with the samples from minks, several bees showed good results and could differentiate the infected specimens and those that belong to healthy animals that had very low numbers of both false positives and false negatives.
Every time the bees were exposed to a non-infected specimen, they would not be given any reward, a process also known as "Pavlovian conditioning."
Ability to Identify COVID-19 Through Smell
Ultimately, the bees could detect an infected specimen within a few seconds and would then push out their tongues akin to clockwork to collect the sugar water.
Bees are not the first animals to identify COVID-19 through smell. Researchers have previously trained dogs as well to differentiate between positive and negative samples of COVID-19 from human sweat or saliva with fairly high accuracy levels.
In connection to this, small German research showed dogs could detect positive COVID-19 specimens more than 90 percent of the time.
That is because metabolic changes from the COVID-19 infection are making the bodily fluids of a person smell a little different compared to those of an individual not infected with the virus.
The researchers still are not sure if animals can be considered the best bet for sniffing out cases of COVID-19 outside the laboratory.
Bees Trained to Detect COVID-19
According to veterinary neurologist Holger Volk, no one is saying that these animals, including bees, can replace a PCR machine. However, he continued, they can be very promising.
According to Cleveland Clinic, PCR machines are what laboratory technicians are using to process standard swab tests for COVID-19.
At the very least, this report said, some animals could be useful for determining COVID-19 in areas or countries in which there is a shortage of lab equipment or inaccessible.
Scientists at Wageningen University, for example, are currently working on a prototype of a machine that could automatically train multiple bees at the same time, then, utilizing their skills to test for coronavirus aerosols, described in the National Library of Medicine as small virus-laden particles, in the surrounding environs.
Sugar-Water Reward for Seconds of Detection
As mentioned, bees were trained to detect COVID-19-infected specimens in a Pavlovian conditioning approach. Every time the bees get exposed to an odor or smell from an infected specimen, they are rewarded with a sugar-water solution.
Specifically, the Wageningen press release specified, the bees would extend their tongues to collect their sugar-water reward. By repeating this action many times, the bees then linked their water-sugar reward to the scent as the stimulus.
With such a repeated conditioning procedure, soon enough, these insects began to extend their tongues out for that odor alone, without any reward offered as a follow-up. Essentially, trained bees can identify an infected specimen within just a few seconds.
A similar report is shown on Arirang News's YouTube video below:
RELATED ARTICLE: Can Dogs Really Smell COVID-19? Here's What Science Reveals
Check out more news and information on COVID-19 on Science Times.