A New Study Shows Ants Can Be Trained to Sniff Out Cancer and Other Diseases

A team of researchers at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has discovered a more effective and more affordable way to detect cancer.

Training Formica fusca ants to do the job!

“After a few minutes of training, these insects, which use smell for daily tasks, were able to differentiate healthy human cells from cancerous human cells,” according to CNRS.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Obsidian Soul

CNRS is devoted to finding faster, more feasible, and more efficient ways to detect cancer. Often, people are required to undergo Magnetic Resonance Imaging, mammograms, or blood tests to determine if they have cancer. But these medical procedures are expensive and invasive.

Dogs are known for their capability to detect cancer, but training these animals for this purpose takes so much time. CNRS picked out another fauna species from the insect world that’s also known for its extraordinary smell: ants.

Photo: YouTube/Golahura

At the CNRS laboratory, they used a reward system to train 36 Formica fusca ants. First, they made the ants sniff cancerous human cells before giving them a sugar solution reward so the ants would associate the smell with the reward.

In the second stage of the experiment, the ants sniffed two types of tissue, one healthy and the other cancerous. The researchers discovered that the ants that were not rewarded shifted to the cancerous tissue.

In the final stage, the researchers exposed the ants to the smell of various types of cancer cells. Their observations showed that the ants could distinguish each type.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Sanja 565658

“The efficacy of this method must now be assessed using clinical trials on a human being, but this first study shows that ants have high potential, are capable of learning very quickly, at lower cost, and are efficient,” said CNRS.

The researchers also see a potential for ants to detect other diseases and odors like narcotics and explosives.

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