Training Ants to Sniff Out Cancer

We were all pretty astonished to learn that dogs, with their advanced senses smell, can detect cancer and other illnesses in people even before diagnostic tools are able to. It turns out that dogs aren't the only animal with such a sensitive sense of smell (like rats who can find land mines), and there are other creatures that are more easily trained to do it. Like ants.

Ants are very sensitive to some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that enable them to find food, avoid enemies, and reproduce. It's not such a stretch to think they could recognize the organic compounds that make up cancer cells. But would they? We think of ants as unthinking soldiers, doing their designated jobs for the group without variance or sense of self-preservation. However, a recent experiment showed that ants of the Formica fusca species can be trained to distinguish breast cancer cells from non-cancerous cells. And quickly!

An experiment with ants showed that they can learn this skill in about 30 minutes, and master it in three days. A dog can learn it, too, but it takes months, up to a year of training, and dogs are more expensive to maintain. 

Okay, how long is it until we replace mammograms with a picnic with ants? It will take time. Training ants is easy compared to cataloging the VOCs of various cancers, and that's a human task. Read more about this finding and how ants might be out future diagnosticians at New Atlas. -via Damn Interesting 

(Image credit: Syrio

#cancerdetection #smell #ant

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