Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

New cancer diagnostic tool

Scientists have come up with a truly unique tool to try to detect cancer – ants. Yes, ants.

Close-up photo of an ant by Retro Lenses, via Wikimedia Commons

Ants are known for their strong sense of smell, which helps them locate food pretty well. Interestingly, some forms of cancer can alter the smell of urine and ants may be able to detect those changes. Their findings on the potential use of ants as “bio-detectors” of cancer were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Ants are advantageous as they are relatively inexpensive compared to other diagnostic tools and they learn quickly. In the study, 70 ants were exposed to urine collected mice that had tumors as well as healthy mice. After only 3 tries, the ants could in fact distinguish between the urine from healthy mice and those with cancer.

Could you imagine showing up to the doctor and consenting to the “ant bio-detection” cancer screening test? How neat is that?


B Piqueret, E Montaudon, P Devienne, C Leroy, E Marangoni, J-C Sandoz, P d’Ettorre. Ants act as olfactory bio-detectors of tumours in patient-derived xenograft mice. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2022. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2022.1962

Categories: Illnesses and Injuries, Intelligence and Neuroscience, Nature's Solutions

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