Study Finds that Ants Can Detect Cancer Cells by Just Sniffing Human Urine Samples!

Study Finds that Ants Can Detect Cancer Cells by Just Sniffing Human Urine Samples!

Is a future where ants save human lives possible? Well, scientists have discovered that these tiny creatures are capable of detecting the smell of cancer from our urine so the answer is…yes!

That’s right! Studies show that ants’ powerful sense of smell allows them to sniff the subtle differences in pee samples, acting like rather accessible bio-detectors, as opposed to the really expensive equipment we currently need to diagnose cancer in the same way.

That being said, a study by Sorbonne University ethologist Baptiste Piqueret and a team of other experts, experimented with this idea on urine samples from lab mice.

What they found is that “Ants show potential to become a fast, efficient, inexpensive and non invasive tool for detection of human tumors.”

This news is rather hopeful given the fact that cancer continues to be the leading cause of death with over 19 million cases only in 2020.

As you may be aware, the earlier that a cancer is diagnosed, the more likely the patient is to survive the devastating disease.

Unfortunately, the cancer detection methods we currently have are both expensive and really invasive, which often deters people from undergoing possibly life-saving screenings as early as they should.

As a result, scientists started to explore the possibility of animals such as mice or dogs helping with their superior olfactory abilities, and now, ants have been tested as well.

So, they conditioned 35 Formica fusca ants, also known as silky ants, to associate healthy mice urine with a reward of sugar water while a separate group of 35 was conditioned to associate the smell of urine taken from mice carrying human cancer tumors with the same treat.

Since these ants are well known for their impressive memory retention and quick learning, it only took three training sessions for them to start differentiating between the smells and figure out the reward association.

In fact, they are so smart that it takes 9 sessions without a reward before their response begins to fade.

A previous study even found that they are even capable of distinguishing between healthy and cancerous cells as well as between different types of cancers!

They were able to detect the cancer cells even though they were altered by passing through the mice’s bodies and whether they were small or large tumors also made no difference to the ants, their abilities working just the same.

Of course, while the experiment’s result is really promising, the team of scientists admits there is still more work to be done before reliably using ants in clinical settings.

The researchers write that “A limitation of the study is that odors we used may not represent that wide diversity of cancer odors that exists in nature. In a real life situation, confounding factors such as age, diet, or stress may contribute to the inter individual variability of individual body odors. Our method needs further validations using different cancer types and, most importantly, samples of direct human origins, before being considered suitable as a routine test for cancer screening.”


Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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