“Sniffer” ants can detect cancer and potentially other diseases

March 15, 2022
“Sniffer” ants can detect cancer and potentially other diseases

A certain species of ant has been found to be able to differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous cells, much like trained detection dogs. Scientists from the CNRS, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, France, discovered the Formica fusca species of ant was adept at identifying volatile organic compounds (VOCs) each unique to a certain cancer type.

Recent research has looked into cost-effective approaches when using animals with bio-detection abilities. The most widely used are dogs, which have an impressive ability to detect even the slightest VOC trace, leading to drug busts; some dogs can also sniff out diseases. Researchers are hoping for similar success with other animals/insects such as mice, honeybees, and locusts.

A preliminary test with Formica fusca ants demonstrates this ability. By the end of three training trials, CNRS scientists were able to effectively teach the ants to differentiate between two types of breast cancer cells, despite the cells’ differing VOC profiles.

The ants would be a more efficient and cost-effective detection tool than any other animal/organism, the scientists hypothesise – however, individual ants can only be used to detect cancerous cells for a limited number of times before their conditioned responses begin to lapse.

According to the CNRS scientists: “Ants are equivalent to dogs – the most studied bio-detectors – in terms of detection abilities. In some respects, ants surpass dogs because they need an extremely shorter training time (30 min compared to 6–12 months for a dog) and a reduced cost of training and maintenance (honey and frozen insects twice a week). Our simple conditioning protocol can be implemented by everyone, after a training time of about 3-day.

“Ants therefore represent a fast, efficient, inexpensive, and highly discriminant detection tool for detection of cancer cell volatiles. Our approach could potentially be adapted to a range of other complex odor detection tasks including the detection of narcotics, explosives, spoiled food, or other diseases (malaria, infections, diabetes for instance),” the scientists concluded.

Category: Education, Features

Comments are closed.