Studies have shown that the wax and pollen in 98% of beehives in the U.S. are contaminated with an average of six pesticides. These substances lower bees’ immunity to devastating varroa mites and other pathogens. By some estimates, pesticides cause beekeepers to lose about a third of their hives every year on average.
Researchers at Cornell University have developed a new technology that effectively protects bees from insecticides. The insecticide antidote delivery method is now the basis of a new company called Beemunity.
The Cornell researchers developed a uniform pollen-sized microparticle filled with enzymes that detoxify organophosphate insecticides before they are absorbed and can harm bees. Organophosphate insecticides account for about a third of the insecticides on the market. The microparticles have a protective casing that allows the enzymes to move past the bees’ crop (basically the stomach), which is acidic and would otherwise break them down. The safeguarded enzymes then enter the midgut, where digestion occurs and where toxins and nutrients are absorbed. There the enzymes act to break down and detoxify the organophosphate insecticides.
In experimental tests, bees that were fed the enzyme-filled microparticles had a 100% survival rate after exposure to the insecticide malathion. Unprotected control bees died within days.
The Cornell work appears to represent a low-cost, scalable solution to the insecticide toxicity issue and may help to protect essential pollinators.
Photo, posted January 30, 2020, courtesy of George Tan via Flick.