Cancer-sniffing fruit flies start to glow if they smell sickness

A lot of animals have an amazing sense of smell, so they can often pick up things that even sensitive odor sensing machines might miss. We already know that dogs and even bees have an impressive ability to sniff out diseased cells, but now a group of scientists in Germany have genetically modified fruit flies so their antennae glow if they smell cancer cells.

Led by Dr. Giovanni Galizia, the team from the University of Konstanz in Germany discovered that not only could the fruit flies tell cancerous cells from healthy ones, they were also able to separate out five individual lines of breast cancer cells. This shows that the fruit flies have a much keener sense of smell than even those cancer sniffing dogs, although I must admit that fruit flies aren't nearly as cute or cuddly.

Unlike some dogs, fruit flies aren't exactly great at communicating with humans, so the researchers needed to give the tiny insects a way to signal when they smelled trouble. To create an indicator, Dr Galizia's team developed a genetically mutated variant of the little guy, where its antennae would take on fluorescent properties if as little as a single molecule carrying the odor hit the fly's receptors.

Dr. Galizia is confident that the fruit fly will eventually become standard equipment in oncologist offices, allowing for earlier cancer detection than any of the current methods both man-made and canine. They'd just better make sure that they stash those fruit flies away before the cleaning lady arrives shaking a can of Raid.

University of Konstanz, via PopSci

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