Bees play a crucial role in pollinating many of the plants we eat and are thus key to our food security, only that as a result of our actions their population is dangerously declining.
Bee numbers are drastically declining due to environmental loss and droughts, as well as massive human involvement, including the use of pest control products on agricultural crops – suffice it to recall a high-profile case from our country, as last year a farmer from the Świdnica municipality sprayed his rapeseed crop with a product not allowed in the European Union, resulting in the death of over 7.5 million bees! And although the losses on the part of farmers with apiaries were estimated at literally 560 thousand zlotys, in reality the consequences of such behavior are much more severe. Fortunately, researchers at Cornell University have come up with an idea to combat the latter and have developed small bee-edible particles that detoxify harmful agents before they can harm bees.
As we already mentioned some insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, have already been banned in the European Union since 2016, precisely to protect bees, because these impair the ability of these insects to produce energy, disrupt their sleep, make it difficult to move, get food and kill them. Unfortunately, some farmers are still using them, and there are other substances dangerous to bees besides, so the new idea is called an antidote to these chemicals, and scientists are focusing first on organophosphate insecticides, which make up a third of those available on the market. The molecules developed by the researchers are packed with enzymes that break down and completely detoxify these substances before the bees can absorb them.
Administering these molecules is not difficult either, as they can be mixed with fresh water for bee feeding, for example, so that the protective enzymes are always available to the bees. The researchers confirmed the effectiveness of their method in experiments on bees in the laboratory – the insects were divided into two groups and both were given the mentioned insecticides, but one also got the protective molecules. It quickly became apparent that the group without protection died on consecutive days, while the protected group had a 100% survival rate. – We have a solution that can be administered in the form of a sweet syrup to detoxify any pesticides the bees might encounter,” explains study co-author James Webb. The next step is to develop molecules that would work on a wider range of insecticides, such as the aforementioned neonicotinoids, which are definitely more difficult, although here, too, the researchers offer hope – instead of enzymes, they want to use a special absorbent oil that will imprison harmful substances inside, allowing them to be safely expelled.