An American university is developing technology that can be fed to bees – and protects them from deadly insecticides.
Created by Cornell University, the mini-sized antidote is the subject of a report, “Pollen-Inspired Enzymatic Microparticles to Reduce Organophosphate Toxicity in Managed Pollinators,” published last month in Nature Food.
The antidote delivery method has now been adapted to effectively protect bees from all insecticides, and has inspired a new company, Beemmunity, based in New York state.
Studies show that wax and pollen in 98 per cent of hives in the US are contaminated with an average of six pesticides, which also lower a bee’s immunity to devastating varroa mites and pathogens.
At the same time, pollinators provide vital services by helping to fertilise crops that lead to production of a third of the food we consume, according to the paper.
“We have a solution whereby beekeepers can feed their bees our microparticle products in pollen patties or in a sugar syrup, and it allows them to detoxify the hive of any pesticides that they might find,” said James Webb, a co-author of the paper and CEO of Beemmunity.
The paper focuses on organophosphate-based insecticides, which account for about a third of the insecticides on the market.
A recent worldwide meta-analysis of in-hive pesticide residue studies found that, under current use patterns, five insecticides posed substantial risks to bees, two of which were organophosphates.
The researchers developed a uniform pollen-sized microparticle filled with enzymes that detoxify organophosphate insecticides before they are absorbed and harm the bee.
The particle’s protective casing allows the enzymes to move past the bee’s crop (stomach), which is acidic and breaks down enzymes.
Microparticles can be mixed with pollen patties or sugar water, and once ingested, the safe-guarded enzymes pass through the acidic crop to the midgut, where digestion occurs and where toxins and nutrients are absorbed. There, the enzymes can act to break down and detoxify the organophosphates.
After a series of in vitro experiments, the researchers tested the system on live bees in the lab.
Bees that were fed the microparticles with a high dose of the enzyme had a 100 per cent survival rate after exposure to malathion. Meanwhile, unprotected control bees died in a matter of days.
Beemmunity is running colony-scale trials this summer on 240 hives in New Jersey and plans to publicly launch its products starting in February 2022.
Products include microparticle sponges in a dry sugar medium that can be added to pollen patties or sugar water, and consumer bee feeders in development.
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