A startup called InsectSense wanted to prove the possibility that insects can be trained. To do that, they partnered with a department at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to work on the potential of honeybees to detect COVID-19.
This experiment uses a standard Pavlovian method to train bees. Bees were given a sugar solution for detecting COVID-19 from a sample on a cotton bud drawn from an infected mink. The bees would extend their tongues to receive the sugar solution
Eventually, with enough practice and without a reward, the bees extend their tongues when they detect COVID-19.
Honeybees have sensitive olfactory systems which are used in the wild to detect nectar in plants even though they’re far away or have trace amounts. This ability also comes in handy for scientists who have used it to diagnose various diseases.
Many are wondering what the purpose behind this research is, especially since other available tests don’t rely on honeybees. But there are benefits in doing so.
Theoretically, the process of training bees to detect such illnesses can be very cheap and efficient against new infections or strains than most pharmaceutical options. Scientists are also looking at the possibility of harnessing honeybee genes to maximize their detection ability to assist in the efficacy of testing.