Pesky fruit flies want your banana and now we know they’re also able to detect cancer

Researchers have long ago discovered that dogs can sniff out cancer in humans and police forces and border officials rely on their abilities to detect drugs.

Now a new research paper have found that fruit flies also have the olfactory abilities to smell cancer cells.

The paper published earlier this month in Nature by lead author Martin Strauch, a German researcher who studies insects and their abilities to construct data mining.

What Strauch and his collaborators found was that cancer cells and non-cancer cells differ in their metabolism and they emit distinct volatile compound profiles, which recognise cancer cells by their scent.

Insect odorant receptors are excellent chemosensors with high sensitivity and a broad receptive range unmatched by current gas sensors.

The researchers studied how or if the fruit fly’s olfactory system was strong enough to detect cancer cells.

Using in vivo calcium imaging, they recorded an array of olfactory receptor neurons on the fruit fly’s antenna. The fruit flies were able to discriminate the different scents between healthy mammary epithelial cells from different types of breast cancer cells.

Next step is making electronic noses equipped with biological sensors, integrating artificial and biological olfaction based on the fruit flies’ receptor neurons.

fruitflies on orange


What the lead figure shows: a) Top: The antenna of a fixed fruit fly is exposed to fluorescent light. Bottom: Fluorescent image of the left antenna of an Orco-GCaMP3 fly. (b) Top: The peripheral olfactory organs comprise the antennae and the maxillary palps. Antennae were used in this study.

Left: Yeah, those are just fruit flies on an orange.

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