Ants have a remarkably sophisticated sense of smell. Now, researchers have discovered that ants can be trained to detect cancer in urine. Although these little insects don’t have a nose, they have plenty of olfactory receptors on their antennae. Ants use these receptors to find food or sniff out potential mates.
In earlier research, scientists revealed that several types of cancer alter the smell of urine. Now in this research, they found ants have the ability to detect the scent of human cancer cells.
This research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. For this study, scientists trained nearly three dozen silky ants (Formica fusca) for finding tumors.
In the lab, researchers grafted pieces of a human breast-cancer tumor onto mice and trained 35 ants to associate urine from the tumor-bearing rodents with sugar. Researchers observed that these silky ants spent 20% more time near urine samples containing cancerous tumors than healthy urine.
Baptiste Piqueret, the study’s lead author, said, “The results are very promising,”
However, he cautioned that “it’s important to know that we are far from using them as a daily way to detect cancer.”