Science and Tech


Designer Trains Bees To Detect Some Cancers

Portuguese designer Susana Soares revealed a unique glass device at Dutch Design Week. Inside it are bees trained to detect cancer on our breath.
Posted at 1:21 PM, Nov 25, 2013

​New research could prove how the honey bee is nature’s natural CT scan.

Portuguese designer Susana Soares unveiled this radical invention at Dutch Design Week.  Inside these glass chambers are trained bees used to detect some cancers.  Here’s how it works…

You’ll notice two chambers: one small, one large. Trained bees are placed into the larger chamber. Then, a person exhales into the smaller chamber. If bees detect certain illnesses, they will rush into that small chamber.

The designer explains bees are trained beforehand to detect some diseases from a person’s breath, including lung and skin cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis.

In these images, you can see the differences in bees’ behavior. The left photo indicates an illness was found, whereas the right image indicates no illness.

Soares’ research relies on the bees’ innate ability to read pheromones from our Apocrine glands. The glands produce the pheromones on our breath, which retains information about our health. (Via Susana Soares)

What’s equally remarkable, a bee can be trained to detect the illness in just 10 minutes. And it will reportedly remember that training forever if rewarded with sugar.  

This could prove to be a relatively cheap first step to detecting serious illnesses. But keep in mind, it doesn’t sound like this has been extensively tested by health officials yet and that could take years.

Still, Dezeen Magazine reports bees can outrank the K9 unit when it comes to detecting security threats, like drugs and explosives.  

“Scientists have found that honey bees ... have an extraordinary sense of smell that is more acute than that of a sniffer dog and can detect airborne molecules in the parts-per-trillion range.” (Via Dezeen Magazine)

WebMD points out bee venom is used for some other health purposes as well. It can be given as a shot for nerve pain, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis among other things.

Soares plans to create special labs where others can lean how to teach bees and get tested as well.