What About Bees? Pollination by Soap Bubbles and Tiny Drones
Who needs bees?
We do! While most of us don't want to envision a world without bees, recent reports indicate that researchers are already seeking ways to pollinate flowers and plants to ensure human survival in a bee-free world. Bee populations around the world have been dwindling for years for many reasons, mostly caused directly or indirectly by human activities.
Research scientists from Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Eijiro Miyako and Xi Yang, recently published their paper, “Soap Bubble Pollination,” in iScience, Volume 23, Issue 6. They have studied the biological and physicochemical properties of soap bubbles and how these, as an artificial agent, may help solve pollination problems.
Apparently, bubbles have a lot more going on than just being pretty rainbow-colored film-thin structures. They have been extensively studied due to their behavior in respect to light and the formation of “film-thin geometric structures” but very little has been checked regarding their potential as a functional material.
Researchers believe bubbles may be ideal for scattering pollen grains, based on the soap bubbles’ inherent liquid membrane and large surface area. Also attractive is the low cost of producing bubbles. A soap bubble is lightweight, adaptable and soft, so flowers are unharmed with this method.
This 3:37-minute video by News9 Live shows some bubble pollination:
Researchers used a bubble gun as a pollen pressure sprayer for experimentation on a Chinese white pear plant. Five different surfactant materials were used in the testing to analyze their influence on the pollination process. They discovered by accident that natural pollen grains can be incorporated into a soap film with ease.
Pollen grains were shot into natural pear flowers in varying quantities of soap bubbles, and the presence of pollen grains were traced by using fluorescence microscopy. The pear trees that were pollinated by the soap bubbles eventually bore fruit. This novel pollination method is comparable to labor-intensive manual pollination, which already exists.
If the study yields more “fruitful” results, the authors look forward to addressing relevant global pollination issues such as the decline of pollinator insects, the rising price of pollen grains, and the high labor inherent to artificial pollination.
Meanwhile, in another aspect of the researchers’ field work, Japanese scientists explored a breakthrough in using a tiny drone as a pollinator to conduct robotic-assisted flower pollination. They added 2% hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) to stabilize the bubbles against the downstream generated by the drone propeller. The tiny drone mimicked pollinators and performed the necessary activities from one plant to the next.
This 1:11-minute long video by Science Magazine shows some potential drone pollinators.
Is it possible that tiny pollinating drones could replace bees and butterflies? Humanity is facing potentially serious problems with the pollination of flowers, plants and crops. Science Magazine reported that 40% of bees and butterflies are facing the risk of extinction. They play key roles in pollinating crops humans need for survival. This awareness lies behind these scientific experiments with tiny drones.
Researchers bought $100 worth of tiny drones to play the role of pollinators, according to Engadget. A strip of fuzz made from horsehair was affixed to the bottom of the tiny machine, and liquid ion gels were used to cover the strips of fuzz. The tiny drone was no larger than a hummingbird, with four spinning blades on the upper side.
Pink and white Japanese lilies were chosen by the researchers for the test. The tiny gadgets flew to one Japanese lily to collect pollen, and to release it into another Japanese lily. The spinning blades made flight easy and the ionic gel helped to collect pollen from flowers.
Project leader, Eijiro Miyako, declared this the first time a tiny drone played a major role in flower pollination. A next step solution would be to equip the drones with GPS, high resolution cameras and artificial intelligence. More studies are necessary, but this preliminary testing confirms that these methods have exciting potential.
While all of this sounds great for the future survival of humanity in a post-bee world, envisioning life without bees buzzing around flowery gardens, foraging and making honey, is too sad to consider.
What are you doing for bees? Today is a great day to get started!
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