Scientists Train Bees To Detect Coronavirus In Seconds

by : Cameron Frew on :
Scientists Train Bees To Detect Coronavirus In SecondsPA Images

Bees have been trained to detect coronavirus within seconds – without any sort of incentive. 

Scientists from Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands conducted an experiment with the question: could bees be trained to detect SARS-CoV-2 infected samples in a Pavlovian conditioning method?


With more than 150 bees put to the test in the Biosafety laboratory of Wageningen Bioveterinary Research, with a range of training setups used to get the best results, the bees soon learned sense COVID-19 through smell.

A bee learning to detect COVID-19. (Wageningen University and Research)Wageningen University and Research

A press release explains, ‘Each time the bees were exposed to the scent from an infected sample, they received a sugar water solution reward. The bees extended their tongues to collect the sugar water solution. By repeating this action several times, the bees associated the sugar reward with the scent as the stimulus.’

It adds, ‘With this repeated conditioning, soon enough bees started extending their tongues out for the scent alone, with no reward offered as a follow-up. A trained bee can detect an infected sample within a few seconds.’


The project was also backed by France’s Université Paul Sabatier and startup InsectSense – the latter of which is also working on a machine which could potentially train multiple bees at once, as well as a biosensor that would deploy trained bees for diagnosis, dubbed ‘BeeSense’.

Much like dogs, bees are known for being able to detect scents. (Wageningen University and Research)Wageningen University and Research

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Bees are said to be capable of detecting volatiles ‘with a sensitivity of parts per trillion’. However, they’re not the first creature to detect COVID-19 via scent – that honour goes to man’s best friend.

Compared to humans, dogs have 60 times more scent receptors, hence why they make great sniffers for police forces around the world. Since the start of the pandemic, a number of studies have been carried out in which dogs have found positive cases of COVID-19 with more than 90% accuracy.


Holger Volk, a veterinary neurologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover, Germany, told Nature, ‘No one is saying they can replace a PCR machine, but they could be very promising.’

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Science, Bees, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Now


Wageningen University and Research and 1 other
  1. Wageningen University and Research

    Training bees to smell the coronavirus

  2. Nature

    Can dogs smell COVID? Here’s what the science says