Ag Tech News

Researchers create microparticles to save honey bees

PULLMAN, Wash. – Honey bee colonies could be saved from collapse in the future thanks to a microscopic particle that attracts pesticides, as created by Washington State University researchers.

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a new material that attracts pesticide residue in bees. Over time, pollen tinged with itsy bitsy amounts of pesticides accumulates in a bee’s body, reducing the lifespan of each bee in a colony.

Toxic residue magnet
“The material acts as a magnetic microsponge that absorbs ingested toxic residues,” said Waled Suliman, a postdoctoral research associate in WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering.

The product, a powder, can be incorporated into a sugar solution that’s fed to bee colonies. Each microparticle is the size and shape of a grain of pollen, making them easily digestible for bees. And they’re specially designed and formulated to be safe for beekeepers to handle.

When consumed by the bees, the particles attract and absorb pesticide toxins. Then, they pass through the bees like any other food. Each particle only spends a few hours in their digestive system, which is enough to significantly reduce pesticide residues.

In fact, each particle of Suliman’s technology can remove about 300 nanograms of pesticide residue — much more than bees can survive.

Last summer, to test this new product, Suliman and assistant professor of entomology and manager of the WSU bee program Brandon Hopkins fed around 6,000 bees the microparticles in a sugar solution. Then they tested feces from those bees and found it contained the microparticles. In addition, the bees colonies remained healthy, showing that the microparticles don’t harm bees.

Meauring toxin attraction
This summer, they will test just how well the particles attract toxins in the bees’ bodies by collecting the microparticles after they’ve been through the bees and measuring them.

“We’re really lucky that bees have fairly simple digestive systems,” Suliman said. “Our material is specifically designed to work only on pesticide residues and only at a certain pH level and temperature. So the micro-particles won’t absorb amino acids or anything else a honey bee eats.”

Since they’re still collecting data, the material isn’t yet available to beekeepers. But Suliman is hoping to have the product on the market in the next two years.

“We have proof of concept,” he said. “Ultimately, our goal is to lessen the economic impact of bee decline not only for beekeepers but also for farmers and food prices.”


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