Dutch scientists have trained bees, which have an unusually keen sense of smell, to identify samples infected with COVID-19, a finding they said may cut waiting times for test results to just seconds.

To train the bees, scientists at the bio-veterinary research lab at Wageningen University gave them carbonated water as a reward after showing them infected with COVID-19. They would find no reward after being shown a non-infected sample.

Having got used to the system, the bees had been able to extend their tongues to receive a reward when presented with an infected sample, said Wim van der Poel, a professor of virology who took part in the undertaking.

“We gather ordinary honeybees in the beekeeper and we put the bees in harnesses,” he said. “Right after presenting a favorable sample we also introduce them with sugar . And what the bees do is that they extend their proboscis to choose the sugar water.”

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The extending of the bees’ straw-like tongues to drink is confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result, according to the researchers.

It can take hours or days to have a COVID-19 test outcome, but the response from the bees is immediate. The method is also cheap, possibly making it useful for states where evaluations are scarce, they stated.

“It is a great idea, but I would rather carry out evaluations employing the classic diagnostic tools instead of using honeybees for this. I’m a massive bee buff, but I’d use the bees for other functions than detecting COVID-19,” he explained.