Pesticide particles on pollen sucked by bees accumulate in their bodies overtime, reducing their lifespans significantly as it takes no more than 15 nanograms of pesticide to kill a bee. To put this in perspective, picture a particle as small as a grain of sand. Even that typically weighs 58,500 nanograms.
Researchers from the Washington State University (WSU) have created a new microscopic particle that can attract this pesticide residue and promises to improve their life expectancy.
“The material acts as a magnetic microsponge that absorbs ingested toxic residues,” Waled Suliman, a postdoctoral research associate at WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, said in a statement.
The product is in the form of a powder that can be incorporated into a sugar solution to be fed to the bee colonies. It is specially designed and formulated to be safe for beekeepers to handle and each microparticle is the size and shape of a grain of pollen, making them easily digestible for bees.
After being 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 residue. Researchers claim that each particle can remove about 300 nanograms of pesticide residue in a bee.
To test the product last year, Suliman along with Brandon Hopkins, assistant professor of entomology and manager of the WSU bee program, fed the microparticles to roughly 6,000 bees in a sugar solution. Then they tested feces from those bees and found it contained the microparticles. They found that the bees colonies remained healthy.
This year, researchers will test how well the particles attract toxins in the bees’ bodies by collecting the microparticles after they’ve been passed through the digestive system.
“We’re really lucky that bees have fairly simple digestive systems,” said Suliman. “Our material is specifically designed to work only on pesticide residue 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.”
As the research is still in data collection phase, the microparticles are not yet available to beekeepers. Researchers are hopeful that the product will be available in the market in another two years.
“We have proof of concept. Ultimately, our goal is to lessen the economic impact of bee decline not only for beekeepers but also for farmers and food prices,” Suliman said.