Can ants help detect cancer in humans? Children’s news article

French researchers have trained silky ants to ‘sniff out’ cancer cells in humans. (Mathias Krumbholz/- Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/

Ants are really fascinating creatures. The industrious insects can lift up to 50 times their own body weight, metamorphose in rafts to protect themselves from floods, predict earthquakes and even repair their damaged homes. Now researchers have discovered that the amazing bugs may even be able to help detect cancer in man.

For their study, the team led by researchers from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, turned to the formica fusca, or silky ants, found throughout Europe. They started by showing individual ants with two tubes – one empty and the other containing a solution with cancer cells. When the insects headed for the last tube, they were rewarded with a sugar solution. It only took 30 minutes for the intelligent creatures to associated diseased cells” distinct smell with the treat.

Scientists have tested the detection of cancer in insects prowess removing the sugar solution. They found that the ants continued to gravitate towards the tube about nine times before realizing it was gone.

The design of the researchers’ test device (Credit: Piqueret et al., iScience, 2022))

The team then tested to see if the insects could differentiate between different types of cancer. They trained two groups of ants to associated the uniquely smelling sweet solution to two types of breast cancer. Once again, the insects chose the scent they had been exposed to long after the sugar solution had been removed.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal February 22, 2022, next hope of determine whether insects can detect cancer when diseased cells are not isolated from normal cells. They also plan to investigate whether they can detect body cancer fluids As saliva or sweat.

Dr Baptiste Piqueret, lead author of the study, explains: “The human body is not compound of a single cell type but of a myriad. We now need to assess the feasibility to use ants for the detection of cancer by comparing a set organization with cancer and an entire organism without cancer. Once this is done, we could test the ants’ abilities with a human body as a source of odour.

The ants were trained to associate the smell of cancer with a sweet treat (Credit: Piqueret et al., iScience, 2022))

If successful, the ants could provide a feasible alternative to dogs for detecting diseases in humans. They could potentially also be trained to detect the presence of things like explosives and drugs.

“Ants are equivalent to dogs… in terms of detection abilities,” the researchers wrote in their study. “In some ways, ants exceed dogs because they need a extremely a shorter training time (30 minutes against 6-12 months for a dog) and a cost of training and maintenance.”


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