Locusts detect cancer, differentiate between normal and abnormal cells

Locusts detect cancer, differentiate between normal and abnormal cells

Locusts, best known for the trouble they cause humanity, what with their starring roles in biblical plagues and agricultural mayhem, may soon be known for their benefit to mankind.

A new study from scientists at Michigan State University indicates the noisy, somewhat terrifying grasshopper can sniff out human cancer.

Not only can the gangly insect “smell” the difference between cancer cells and normal cells, they can tell the difference between types of cancers.

Despite their potential, oncologists won’t be hiring these guys in a co-working, clinical capacity. Rather, their super-sniffers will provide the basis for future devices that can use sensory neurons from the insects to detect cancer in patients’ breath.

Although laboratory mice often take the spotlight when it comes to biological models, locusts are well known to the scientific community as model organisms. In fact, their sense of smell and corresponding neural circuits have been mapped in great detail, allowing researchers to attach electrodes to locust brains and record their responses to gas samples from healthy cells and cancer cells.

Sniffing out the difference between a healthy cell and a cancerous cell is incredible. But being able to distinguish three distinct oral cancers? That’s on another level entirely. It makes the fact that locusts have been used to detect explosives completely understandable.

Despite the insect’s amazing skill, clinical technological devices based on them are still years away — meaning that biological noses are still king of the olfactory castle when it comes to all things smelly.

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