Plastic for bees? Research shows it works

April 5, 2011

Technological advances are reaping good results for our world, and groups that are benefitting most from innovation are people and ... bees. Researchers in Germany have developed a better way of rearing bee larvae in the laboratory. Their method, presented in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will help scientists shed light on why the bee population is declining.

It is well known that bees play a crucial role in securing food for humans, due to their outstanding pollination activities on plant crops. But the bee population is shrinking and researchers are on a quest to get to the bottom of this problem. A combination of various factors like agricultural chemicals, loss of habitat, and diseases are pushing scientists to kick-start the race and find a solution in a laboratory.

Enter researchers from the University of Würzburg who came up with an innovative idea to rear honey bee within a four-wall room; this would help them determine why the bee is dying. Existing laboratory rearing methods are lacklustre as they involve 'grafting', where the small first instar bee larvae (around 1 millimetre long) are collected using brushes, feathers or needles. As the pressure mounts to gather the information, mechanical stress grows, triggering mortality among the tiny larvae.

'To sustain the vital ecosystem service of pollination, new methodical developments are needed for research on the underlying factors of globally observed bee losses,' say the authors of the study. 'In particular, robust laboratory methods for assessing adverse effects on honey bee brood are required. In addition, from a statistical point of view, the shared origin of test individuals must be considered when analysing ecotoxicological data.'

The researchers adopted a non-grafting method to collect honey bee larvae; this ensured no direct manipulation of the larvae. The team allowed the honey bee queens to lay eggs directly into an artificial plastic honeycomb about the size of a cigar box to ensure the larvae's safety. Professional honey bee queen breeders use the plastic honeycomb, and the researchers realised that these honeycombs facilitate their rearing of the larvae and guarantee positive results.

'The artificial comb has a hexagonal pattern with 110 holes the size of wax cells,' explains Harmen Hendriksma, lead author of the study. 'The queen lays her eggs directly into these small plastic cells. Because the back of each cell has a small plastic cup, we can collect the larvae without handling them.'

Dr Hendriksma decided to use the plastic honeycomb in the laboratory following a stint with a Dutch company that produced honey for medical purposes.

'Like many people I am a bit lazy and wanted to find a quicker, easier way of rearing honey bees in the laboratory,' he says. 'When I tried using the plastic honeycomb system I found it was just perfect.'

By using the plastic honeycomb, the team ensured the survival of 97% of the larvae and they successfully collected over 1 000 larvae in 90 minutes.

This latest technique could also give the quality of bee research a boost, particularly because the results generated in various laboratories will be more directly comparable. The research findings also indicate that applying statistical approaches used in other areas of ecological science can give bee researchers the edge they need to get more positive analyses.

'Bee research is like an arms race, where researchers try and keep up with monitoring emerging new risks to bees,' Dr Hendriksma says. 'Because so many factors - such as environmental pollution, new agricultural pesticides, bee diseases, changing habitats and bees' genes - may be playing a part in the loss of our , we need better ways of analysing our results.'

Explore further: New technique could help solve mystery of vanishing bees

More information: Methods in Ecology and Evolution: www.methodsinecologyandevolution.org/view/0/index.html

Related Stories

New technique could help solve mystery of vanishing bees

March 22, 2011

Ecologists have developed a better way of rearing bee larvae in the laboratory that could help discover why honey bee populations worldwide are declining. The technique, together with details of how statistics adapted from ...

'Swindon Honeybee' could save Britain's bees

August 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Honey bee numbers have been declining almost everywhere due to a pesticide-resistant mite called Varroa. Now a beekeeper in Britain claims to have discovered a strain of bee that destroys the parasite through ...

Asian bees threaten Australia

June 15, 2007

Four swarms of Asian bees found in Cairns, Australia, may pose a serious threat to the country's honey bee population.

Honey bee genome holds clues to social behavior

October 23, 2006

By studying the humble honey bee, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have come a step closer to understanding the molecular basis of social behavior in humans.

Recommended for you

Scientists create first stable semisynthetic organism

January 23, 2017

Life's genetic code has only ever contained four natural bases. These bases pair up to form two "base pairs"—the rungs of the DNA ladder—and they have simply been rearranged to create bacteria and butterflies, penguins ...

New steps in the meiosis chromosome dance

January 23, 2017

Where would we be without meiosis and recombination? For a start, none of us sexually reproducing organisms would be here, because that's how sperm and eggs are made. And when meiosis doesn't work properly, it can lead to ...

Research describes missing step in how cells move their cargo

January 23, 2017

Every time a hormone is released from a cell, every time a neurotransmitter leaps across a synapse to relay a message from one neuron to another, the cell must undergo exocytosis. This is the process responsible for transporting ...

Lab charts the anatomy of three molecular channels

January 23, 2017

Using a state-of-the-art imaging technology in which molecules are deep frozen, scientists in Roderick MacKinnon's lab at Rockefeller University have reconstructed in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional architecture ...

Immune defense without collateral damage

January 23, 2017

Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland have clarified the role of the enzyme MPO. In fighting infections, this enzyme, which gives pus its greenish color, produces a highly aggressive acid that can kill pathogens ...

Provocative prions may protect yeast cells from stress

January 23, 2017

Prions have a notorious reputation. They cause neurodegenerative disease, namely mad cow/Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. And the way these protein particles propagate—getting other proteins to join the pile—can seem insidious.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sin_Amos
not rated yet Apr 05, 2011
Talk about obvious. Duh!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.