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Harness-wearing bees being used to sniff out Covid-19

As experts around the world scramble to come up with new, inventive ways to detect Covid-19, Dutch researchers have thought of an out-of-the-box idea using bees. 

Source: Seven Sharp

With their unusually keen sense of smell, the researchers are training the insects to identify samples infected with the coronavirus in a bid to save wait times with traditional testing, according to Reuters. 

But how do you train a bug? 

Scientists in the bio-veterinary research laboratory at Wageningen University are feeding bees sugary water as a reward after they detect Covid-19 samples, and no reward for a non-infected sample. 

Wim van der Poel, a professor of virology who took part in the project, explained to Reuters how the bees were able to extend their tongues to receive a reward when presented with an infected sample – so it’s now being used as immediate confirmation of a positive test, without waiting hours for a traditional test’s result. 

“We collect normal honeybees from a beekeeper and we put the bees in harnesses," van der Poel said. 

 "Right after presenting a positive sample we also present them with sugar water. And what the bees do is they extend their proboscis to take the sugar water." 

However, while the researchers also say the method is cheap and could therefore be an option for countries struggling to get their hands on tests, one professor told the publication it was not likely to replace more conventional forms of testing for the virus. 

"It is a good idea, but I would prefer to carry out tests using the classic diagnostic tools rather than using honeybees for this,” said Dirk de Graaf, a professor who studies bees, insects and animal immunology at Ghent University in Belgium.