Glowing Fruit Flies Shed Light on Diagnosing Cancer

By: | February 17th, 2014

A lot of animals are known for their amazing scent-detecting abilities. A shark can respond to blood in seawater, even if it’s just equivalent to one teaspoon in a swimming pool.

Dogs and even bees have an acute sense of smell. Police and military personnel have been using dogs to sniff out explosives for decades. But bees can actually challenge dogs when it comes to the sense of smell.

Genetically modified fruit flies can sniff out cancer cells

A group of scientists in Germany have discovered that fruit flies can tell cancerous cells from healthy ones. Although fruit flies have a much better sense of smell than cancer sniffing dogs, fruit flies are not great at communicating with humans like canines, of course. So, researchers genetically modified fruit flies so that they glow when they smell cancer cells.

The fruit fly’s antenna starts glowing when it smells cancer cells

To test the fruit flies, scientists gathered samples of the air above different strains of cancer cells as well as lab-grown healthy human tissue. They blew the air samples over these genetically modified flies and examined them under a microscope. The scent of cancer cells illuminated their antennae differently than the healthy ones.

This could be a great noninvasive way of detecting cancer in the body and give the best chance of successful treatment of cancer well before it can be discovered with the present diagnostic imaging techniques.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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