Researchers have shown that locusts can not only "smell" the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells.

But they can also distinguish between different cancer cell lines.

This work could provide the basis for devices that use insect sensory neurons to enable the early detection of cancer using only a patient's breath.

Although such devices aren't on the immediate horizon, they're not as far-fetched as they might sound.

Scientists are working on technology that can mimic the sense of smell.

But nothing they've engineered can yet compete with the speed, sensitivity and specificity of old-fashioned biological olfaction.

This lack of gas-sensing devices creates an opportunity when it comes to early detection of diseases, especially those like cancer.

So, scientists developed a new approach.

They thought: Why not start with the solutions biology has already built after eons of evolution, and engineer from there?

Scientists worked with locusts as their biological component for a few reasons.

Researchers have built up a meaningful understanding of their olfactory sensors and corresponding neural circuits.

The scientists recorded the insects' responses to gas samples produced by healthy cells and cancer cells.

They used those signals to create chemical profiles of the different cells.

The researchers believe their system would work with any cancer that introduces volatile metabolites into breath.