Ingenious Devices Use Bees to Detect Diseases in Humans

glass objects using bees to diagnose diseases

Bees are integral to the health of our planet, but they are also surprisingly good at detecting health problems in humans. Designer Susanna Soares built an unusual series of diagnostic devices that use this incredible ability to detect a variety of human maladies.

bees detecting diseases in humans

Studies have shown that bees can detect a wide range of diseases from diabetes to cancer to tuberculosis simply by recognizable odors in a human’s breath or apocrine (sweat) glands.

bees diagnosing diseases

Soares’ project involved a set of glass objects and a small number of bees. The bees can be trained for their specific task in just ten minutes using a food reward system – and they retain this knowledge for the rest of their lives.

bees detect human disease

Each glass object is made of two chambers: a large chamber that holds the bees (only for a very short time) and a smaller enclosure that serves as the diagnosis area. To use the system, a human blows into one of the objects or allows the scent of their sweat to enter the diagnosis chamber. If the bees rush into the diagnosis area, this means that they detected the illness they were trained to recognize. If they stay in the larger chamber, the diagnosis is negative.

bees smell human diseases

We can’t be sure how medically accurate this particular project is, but bees do have an incredible sense of smell ranging in the parts-per-trillion neighborhood. The medical community has already recognized the potential of bees as biosensors and in some areas have used them to help in early detection of some cancers and other diseases.

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See more in Medical Marvels or under Science. June, 2014.