February 6, 2023

Follow the honey: can we save the bees by tracking them?

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By Chris Yaylor From MashableBee

Colony Collapse Disorder may sound like the name of a dystopian science fiction novel, but it’s a real and present danger to the planet. For years, honey bees around the globe have been wandering from their hives and dying for no apparent reason. In some countries, 50% of hives have committed this odd kind of suicide.

This is a disaster for humans as well as bees. The wee buzzing beasties pollinate roughly a third of our food supply; $200 billion worth of crops annually. If they were to die out completely, you might have to kiss goodbye to tomatoes, almonds, avocados, berries, beans, limes and lemons, to name but a few. (And if their extinction sounds unlikely, well, so did that of the great-tasting, ubiquitous passenger pigeon — until we shot the last one exactly a century ago.)

Nobody knows exactly why the bees are getting confused; various reports have fingered particular pesticides, antibiotics and cellphone signals, or maybe all of the above. A big part of the problem: scientists don’t really know where honey bees are going when they die.

That seems surprising: how can anything escape our attention on this GPS-driven, NSA-monitored planet? Couldn’t we just, you know, stick RFID chips on the bees?

As much as that seems like an idea that emerged after one too many bong hits, it makes scientific sense — and now a group of Australian researchers are trying it out. They’ve attached 0.1-inch-wide sensors, above, to the backs of 5,000 honey bees in Tasmania.

The chips will transmit location data in real time. (The researchers had to refrigerate the bees for a few minutes first, and shave the ones that were too hairy for the chips to stick).

“This is a non-destructive process and the sensors appear to have no impact on the bee’s ability to fly and carry out its normal duties,” said Dr. Paulo de Souza, who’s heading up the bee trials at Australia’s national science agency, known as the CSIRO, in a press release.

“Bees are social insects that return to the same point and operate on a very predictable schedule,” de Souza added. “Any change in their behaviour indicates a change in their environment. If we can model their movements, we’ll be able to recognize very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause.”

The CSIRO’s ambition doesn’t stop at bees. The organization, one of the world’s largest scientific agencies, is aiming to shrink the RFID chips down to a mere tenth of a millimeter — so it can start tracking mosquitoes and fruit flies too.

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Honey bees trained to detect cancer on patients’ breath

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 1.18.36 PMBy Meg Wagner From Mashable

Doctors have long treated patients for exceptionally bad bee stings, but now, it looks like the insects may be helping the field of medicine.

New research from Inscentinel, a UK-based firm specializing in insect research, suggests that honey bees can be trained to detect certain early-stage cancers in humans.

Using this breakthrough, Portuguese designer Susana Soares has developed a glass device for diagnosis using honey bees and a patient’s breath.

Thanks to their super-sensitive sense of smell, bees can detect odors that a human nose can’t, Soares explains on her website. Biomarkers associated with tuberculosis, lung cancer, skin cancer and diabetes, which can all be detected through smell, are present on a patient’s breath.

Soares designed a glass objects with two enclosures: a small chamber that the patient breathes into and a larger chamber where trained bees are kept. If the bees detect the odor they where trained to pinpoint – in this case that of disease biomarkers – they’ll rush into the smaller chamber where the breath is.

The cancer-detecting bees are trained by exposing the insects to the smell, then feeding them sugar, so they associate the odor with a food reward.

Soares says that properly trained bees are “very accurate” in early medical diagnosis.

Bees and wasps have previously been trained to detect bombs by smell.

Homepage image: Flickr, Quinten Questel

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