Ants have been taught to smell cancer

(ORDO NEWS) — French scientists have shown that ants can be trained to identify certain forms of cancer by the volatile substances emitted by the tumor.

The ability of dogs to “diagnose” certain diseases has long been known. With their extremely keen sense of smell, they can detect volatiles and odors that are characteristic of illness, including Covid-19.

However, it is difficult to imagine that physicians would begin to massively use dogs for diagnosis. If only because it is too difficult and time consuming to raise and train them, and to maintain them is expensive and troublesome.

Therefore, scientists are testing other, easier-to-work animals, including rodents and even insects, for similar abilities.

And a team from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) turned to the common brown wood ants Formica fusca , and they showed excellent sensitivity to tumor volatile organic substances.

Each oncological disease has its own unique composition of volatile substances. In experiments, Baptiste Piqueret and colleagues focused on two forms of breast cancer by growing such cells in vitro, “in vitro.”

Using a sweet reward, the scientists trained ants to identify tumor cells while ignoring healthy ones. The insects learned in just a few tries, demonstrating the same accuracy as trained dogs.

“In terms of the ability to notice the smell, ants turned out to be no worse than dogs, the most famous “biodetectors,” the authors of the work write.

And in some aspects, ants are superior to dogs, because they require less time for training (half an hour instead of 6-12 months) and funds for maintenance (honey and frozen insects twice a week). A simple training protocol can be implemented by anyone after a couple of days of training.”

According to the researchers, each trained ant can be used up to nine times, after which its abilities begin to degrade and it is worth moving on to the next insect.

However, this diagnostic method is still far from clinical practice, and the work carried out by French biologists only demonstrates the possibility of such an approach. Before the appearance of diagnostic ants in hospitals and clinics, it is still very, very far away.

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