A new study shows that ants can be trained to detect cancer in urine. Although ant sniffing is a long way from being used as a diagnostic tool in humans, the results are encouraging, the researchers said.
Since ants have no nose, they use the olfactory receptors on their antennae to help them find food or mates. For a new study published on January 25 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences Published, Ant-Scientists Formica Fusca trained them to use their sharp olfactory receptors for a different task: finding tumors.
In the lab, scientists transplanted slices of breast cancer tumors from human samples into mice and trained 35 insects to associate urine from tumor-bearing rodents with sugar. After being placed in a laboratory container, ants spent 20% more time with urine samples containing cancerous tumors than with healthy urine.
“They just want to eat sugar,” said lead study author Baptiste Picere, an ethologist at the University of Paris-Sorbonne Nord in France.