A new study has demonstrated that ants can detect cancer cells simply by smelling their distinctive odor.
Individual ants require only a few training sessions in order to smell cancerous cells. Researchers said that this makes them easier, faster, and less laborious than other animals.
Although this is the first such study, researchers believe it shows that ants can act as a bio-detector for cancer.
Cancerous cells produce certain compounds when they grow. These compounds can be detected with high-tech equipment, or by animals with sensitive noses. Recent research has shown that dogs can detect cancer in their environment. One study showed that canines could spot lung cancer up to 97% of the time.
Training dogs can be expensive and time-consuming. Researchers at French universities decided to test different animal species to detect the odor of cancer. Because they are easy to raise and affordable, insects seemed like a good choice. Their sense of smell is crucial for their survival and leads them to edible plants and willing mates.
They focused their attention on Formica fusca, an ant species that they had demonstrated was easy to learn. After growing cancer cells for several days, the researchers created an arena where one ant would be given one empty tube and one filled with the cancerous cells.
The researchers then trained the ants to recognize which tube contained cancerous cells. The ants learned how to recognize the cancer sample in just 30 minutes.
Researchers found that the ant was searching for cancerous odors in the second arena. This, researchers claim, proves that the ant can detect the presence of cancer cells.
Different cancers produce different odors so the second challenge was for the sniffer-ants to differentiate between different types of cancerous growths. The ants were all trained in the same manner to detect breast cancer. Half of them were taught one type and the rest learned another.
The ants were able to distinguish between two types of breast cancer, and they could do so because they were conditioned to receive a reward for each.
But, ants are far from being used to diagnose a medical condition.
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