Using a locust’s brain and antennae to detect mouth cancer

grasshopper

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 public domain

A team of researchers from Michigan State University has found a way to use a grasshopper’s brain and antennae to detect oral cancer. Their work has not yet been peer-reviewed, but they have posted a paper describing their work on the bioRxiv preprint server.

Prior research has shown that some animals, such as dogs, can smell the changes in chemicals emitted when humans perspire or exhale. Dogs were tested for use in detecting, for example, COVID-19 in humans. But raising, training and keeping dogs for such work takes a lot of time and effort. In this new effort, the researchers wondered if such work could be done more efficiently using another creature known to have a keen sense of smell — the grasshopper.

Grasshoppers are a type of locust typically found in the tropics. In addition to their long bodies and jumping legs, they have large antennae that they use to detect chemical changes in the air around them. The researchers in this new effort took advantage of that ability. They surgically implanted probes into the brains of several living specimens to allow them to record brainwave patterns as the insects were introduced to gases derived from cancer specimens grown in a jar.

More specifically, they were exposed to gases emitted by three types of oral cancers that grow in human tissue. As the gases were brought to the antennae, the brain waves of the locusts were recorded. After many rounds of testing, the researchers found that they could detect and recognize different brain wave patterns when the grasshoppers were exposed to the different types of cancer — and a control group of mouth cells that were noncancerous. The researchers note that their attempt is the first to use a living insect brain to detect cancer.

The researchers also note that their method requires the use of six to 10 grasshoppers to get signals clear enough to use as a cancer detection system. They plan to continue their work, hoping to narrow it down to just one locust brain. By doing so, they suggest, their system could become portable.


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More information:
Alexander Farnum et al, Using insect neural olfactory circuitry for non-invasive detection of human cancer, BioRxiv (2022). DOI: 10.1101/2022.05.24.493311

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Quote: Using a grasshopper’s brain and antennae to detect oral cancer (2022, June 22) retrieved June 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-locust-brain-antennae-mouth-cancer .html

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