The latest research shows that ants can detect cancer by smelling human urine with ‘volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs) released by cancer cells with their extraordinary and uncanny ability to smell. Although scientists have failed to curb the monster of cancer completely so far, the speed with which the disease deteriorates can be slowed down if identified immediately.
A report published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences states that cancer adds a variety of odors to urine that ants can smell. This research was conducted by experts from the Max Planck Institute of Ecology, a famous institution in Germany.
Baptiste Piqueret, an ethologist at Sorbonne Paris North University and lead author of the study, already knew that ants could detect the volatile organic compounds wafting off cancer cells. He previously discovered that he could train the ant species Formica fusca to distinguish between cancer cells and healthy cells grown in culture. Now he’s taken the research one step further by using actual tumors.
Piqueret and his team started by transplanting human breast cancer tumors into mice and letting them grow—a technique called xenografting. They then collected urine from both tumor-laden mice and healthy ones. By placing a drop of sugar water in front of the urine of animals with cancer, the researchers trained the ants to associate the smell of tumors with a reward. When the team removed the sugar water, the insects lingered around the pee of cancerous mice for about 20 percent longer than that of healthy mice because they were looking for a sweet treat.
The research has paved a distinctive yet exciting way for scientists to get deeper into curing cancer at an early stage.