Scientists intend to develop electronic honeybee ‘veterinarians’ as part of their three-fold project to help boost dwindling honeybee populations and overcome colony collapse disorder.
The Office of the President at the University of California has announced the award of $900,000 to a four-campus network of bee researchers and engineers.
The UC Riverside campus is leading a new effort to not just stop but also reverse the worldwide honeybee decline, which threatens food prices and the very security of stable food production.
Since honeybees pollinate over 80 food crops that humans eat, this means they directly affect one-third of our food supply.
This unrelated 3:46-minute video by Ted-Ed explains colony collapse disorder:
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has plagued honeybee colonies for over a decade. Such problems as parasites like the varroa mite, pesticides like neonicotinoids and environmental changes are at the root of this widespread collapse in the honeybee world.
Boris Baer, a professor of entomology at UC Riverside, and principal investigator of the project, indicates that this will become one of the country’s largest honeybee health networks. He is encouraged that so many different types of bee experts are coming together through this project for the good of bees.
There is a three-pronged approach to solving these problems by a network that includes the Davis, Merced, and San Diego campuses.
Goal One is to implement breeding programs, with a particular focus on Baer’s laboratory. He says the goal is to identify and breed resilient bees able to cope with environmental stress.
Goal Two is developing medications and treatments for sick bees. Some honeybees generate molecules that help the bee become more tolerant of pesticides and parasites. New technology enables scientists to isolate and use those molecules as a basis for drugs.
Goal Three is creating tools to help beekeepers monitor the wellness of their bees with what they refer to as an ‘electronic veterinarian’ machine. These are small devices that listen to and smell the insides of hives so beekeepers can assess hive health, like when queen bees emit special pheromones if they are hungry or dying, that can be traced, according to Baer.
Baer states that preventative devices like this can play a key role in helping keep bees alive, which is critical because once the colony collapses, it is too late to bring it back.
This project holds the potential for exciting and positive changes to help bees and beekeepers overcome the devastating colony collapse disorder, so we will post updates as it unfolds.