Although quite a few years have passed, we came across a reference to an amazing bee-centric project by the brilliant Portuguese designer, Susana Soares.

Scientific research indicates that honeybees (Apis mellifera) can be trained to identify specific scents, including the signature smells of human illnesses like cancer. Their scent capabilities are exceptional, as they can detect airborne molecules in the parts-per-trillion range which goes far beyond the capabilities of dogs.

Therefore, bees can be trained in as little as 10 minutes using Pavlov’s reflex to target a wide range of odors and chemicals, both manmade and natural. They are able to detect specific chemical signature scents, including the biomarkers of such diseases as tuberculosis, and cancer of the lungs, skin, and pancreas.

Susana developed and designed a device that can be used to detect cancer and other serious diseases using bees trained in the identification of these scents. This became known as the Bee’s / Project.

In essence, bees are placed in one large glass chamber that contains a smaller chamber as well. The human exhales into the smaller chamber. If the bees detect the scent of a cancer they have been trained to detect in the air, they fly into the secondary smaller chamber. If they do not smell a cancer they were trained to smell they stay in the larger chamber. In a system using diagnostic tools like this, bees would become biosensors. 

It appears this project was created by Susana in or around 2007-2009, so we thought it would be interesting to do some research to see what has happened with it in the meantime.

This 1:14-minute video by Science Gallery Dublin interviews the designer so we hear about this concept in her own words:



This project had the support of Mr. David Perkins of the London Beekeeper Association. Experiments were done at Roots & Shoots. The biotechnology company Inscentinel UK, which specialized in harnessing the olfactory abilities of bees for trace vapor detection, contributed to this project with expertise and insights.

It could take years for this visionary technological model to be tested extensively by health officials. In a very well-written and researched article in the Smithsonian Magazine, it is explained that this concept is unlikely to go far because there isn’t enough money in it for the powers that be in the areas of medical and health technology. There are other practical issues as well, but solutions could be found for most of them.

This 1:49-minute long video by Newsy Science also puts this visionary concept into perspective:



Here at Bee Mission we see Susana Soares as a bee visionary whose idea was perhaps ahead of its time, but as we move further into the 21st Century there is bound to be a more likely market for this approach in the alternative and ecological markets, similar to the unique apitherapy of Slovenia. Soares is open to talk with anyone who might be interested if they have the resources and are willing to take on the risk, saying this could even be an open-source concept. You can visit her website to see this device and other projects she has developed here