Researchers from the Dutch startup InsectSense and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands are using classical conditioning — wherein a biologically potent stimulus such as food is linked to a previously neutral stimulus like a bell — to train bees to detect COVID-19 positive people.

Because bees can detect volatiles and odors much like a dog, the team determined that they could be used to detect the metabolic changes people infected with COVID-19 undergo that influence how the infected person smells. As such, they developed the BeeSense method of COVID-19 positive detection where bees extend their tongues when they detect COVID-19 positive samples.

Using classical conditioning, otherwise known as Pavlovian conditioning, the bees were introduced to samples from infected people and from non-infected people. Each time the bees were introduced to an infected sample, they were rewarded with a droplet of sugar water, linking the scent of a COVID-19 positive sample with the sugar water, thereby causing the bees to extend their tongues each time in anticipation of the reward of sugar water.

According to the researchers, the BeeSense approach trained bees in just a matter of minutes and the bees already trained with this approach can reportedly detect COVID-19 positive samples in just seconds.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com