This is the best news ever, and while it is still in early stages, it finally gives us hope for some bees against some pesticides. This new tech solution to one pesticide could expand to cover others as well.
The chemicals that farmers spray on their crops almost always harms bees, some worse than others. When pesticides are used in large amounts, they can kill bees within days, and sometimes instantly.
Organophosphates account for 30% of global insecticides, and are highly damaging to bees’ neurological systems, even at lower doses. Cornell University scientists have developed pills to protect pollinators from this popular insecticide.
The team reported in the journal Nature Food last month that bumblebees that were exposed to organophosphate and then ate antidote pills survived longer than bees that did not take the pills.
The team that developed the idea over a period of about two years included Professor Minglin Ma and James Webb, a graduate student at the time.
This 2:31-minute video by Beemmunity shows them out doing some beekeeping.
An enzyme called amidohydrolase phosphotriesterase (OPT) can deactivate organophosphates. Scientists have known this but were unable to use it to help bees because it doesn’t work in acidic environments like a bee’s stomach.
The Cornell team solved the issue by encapsulating OPT with nanoparticles made of calcium carbonate, which is like chalk. The result was a pill about 4 micrometers in diameter, like pollen size-wise.
This worked. It protected the bees. The team exposed bumblebees to a high dose of paraoxon, a type of organophosphate, 70% of the bees that were fed the encapsulated OPT pills survived after 12 hours. Only 37.5% of those that were fed OPT alone survived. And those that were fed nothing only had a 27.5% survival rate.
Taking the test further, when the bees were tested with moderate doses of paraoxon over a longer observation period, a little over 50% of the bees that consumed encapsulated OPT pills survived longer than 5 days, whereas none of the bees in the other two categories did.
Webb has founded Beemmunity, a company to commercialize this idea into a product. It should be ready to go to market by the end of this year. He also intends to expand the concept to protect bees against other pesticides.
Organophosphates are being phased out due to being hazardous to human health. According to entomologist Reed Johnson of Ohio State University, it would be great if they can create something to protect pollinators from neonicotinoid insecticides. He is excited about the potential of this technology and envisions it being used to protect honeybees as well, which have similar gut pH as bumblebees. The potential impact on human health would need to be tested first since humans consume honeybee honey.
This is certainly very good news for bumblebees, and potentially for bees in general.