Did you know that honey bees have a powerful sense of smell and can be trained to detect symptoms of disease on human breath?
Well, honey bees have indeed a powerful sense of smell and can pick up on a plethora of odours, from concealed explosives to telltale chemicals, or biomarkers, that signal disease. Harnessing such sensitivity, the designer Susana Soares recently created a buzz at Dutch design week with a series of dual-chamber glass diagnostic tools that incorporate specially trained honey bees to sniff out signs of tuberculosis, diabetes or even certain cancers on a patient’s breath.
“You train the bees in a sort of Pavlov’s reflex,” Soares explains. “You baffle them with the odour you want them to target, then you give them water and sugar a couple of times,” she says. “You repeat the process and they connect that odour with food.”
The bees are then shepherded into the larger of the two glass chambers. When you breath into the smaller, connected, chamber the bees provide a diagnosis, flying towards the source if they anticipate a sweet reward.
“It’s because they tracked something, so they detect the biomarker related to that specific disease,” says Soares. If the bees remain unperturbed, you can breathe easy…