© Paul Devienne, Laboratoire d'éthologie expérimentale et comparée de l'Université Sorbonne Paris Nord

Ants can “sniff out” cancer!


Cancer detection is a major public health challenge, and the methods currently available to achieve it, for example MRIs and mammograms, are often expensive and invasive. This limits their large-scale use. To bypass these constraints, alternative methods are being studied, like the use of animals’ sense of smell. A team of scientists from the CNRS, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, Institut Curie and Inserm1 have demonstrated how a species of ants, Formica fusca, has performed in the area. After a few minutes of training, these insects, which use smell for daily tasks, were able to differentiate healthy human cells from cancerous human cells. By analysing the compounds emitted by various cells, the scientists have shown that each cell line had its own smell that could be used by the ants to detect them. The efficacy of this method must now be assessed using clinical trials on a human being but this first study shows that ants have high potential, are capable of learning very quickly, at lower cost, and are efficient. Find these results in iScience.

Formica fusca © Paul Devienne, Laboratoire d'Ethologie Expérimentale et Comparée at 'Université Sorbonne Paris Nord


Formica fusca © Paul Devienne, Laboratoire d'Ethologie Expérimentale et Comparée at 'Université Sorbonne Paris Nord


  • 1At the Laboratoire d'Ethologie Expérimentale et Comparée at Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, at the Laboratoire Cancer, Hétérogénéité, Instabilité et Plasticité (INSERM/Institut Curie), at the Institut Curie’s Stress and Cancer Laboratory, and at the Laboratoire Évolution, Génomes, Comportement et Ecologie (CNRS/IRD/Université Paris-Saclay)

Ants detect cancer cells through volatile organic compounds. Piqueret, B., Bourachot, B., Leroy, C., Devienne, P., Mechta-Grigoriou, F.,d’Ettorre, P., Sandoz, J.-C., iSCIENCE
(2022), doi: https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(22)00229-2



Baptiste Piqueret
UPSN researcher
Jean-Christophe Sandoz
CNRS researcher
Patrizia d’Ettorre
USPN researcher
Alexiane Agullo
CNRS press officer