Can bees be trained to sniff out cancer? – Salon.com

Can bees be trained to sniff out cancer? – Salon.com.

nsects offer key advantages over mammals and electronics, however, because of their antennae. For example, electronic nose devices have trouble detecting an odor amid more complicated conditions, like when there’s a greater mixture of gases, as is found in human breath. And studies have revealed that sniffer dogs identify odors correctly only about 71 percent of the time, while also requiring at least three months’ training. Bees, in contrast, have achieved an accuracy rate of 98 percent and can be trained in about 10 minutes.

In developing “Bee’s,” the Portuguese native needed something that enabled the user to easily transport bees into the instrument and safely suck them back out using a vacuum. The source material also had to be malleable enough to shape into a system with well-defined pathways that don’t impede their movement. She eventually settled on glass as the material because of its flexibility and transparency. “To know the results of a breath test, you’d have to see the behavior of the insects,” she says. “Everything is about their behavior.”

Prototypes have undergone field testing, and although it didn’t find any instances of cancer, it did turn up a case of diabetes that was later confirmed. It’s unlikely, though, that the concept will amount to anything beyond being an exhibition curiosity. While there was a brief period in which she felt ambitious enough to reach out to potential collaborators, the process proved so time consuming and unfruitful that she ultimately gave up. The only organizations that seemed even remotely interested in her idea were a handful of charities. So for now, “Bee’s” exists as one of those purely academic exercises to show, as she puts it, the “symbiotic relationship” humans have with nature and how “technology and science can better foster these relationships.”

“I think there’s only four labs in the world doing research into insects for disease screening, which shows you that this approach doesn’t go over well in the western world,” says Soares. “Medical and health technologies are a big business, and the bottom line is they just don’t see how something like this can be profitable.”

Glen C. Rains, an agricultural professor at the University of Georgia, largely concurs, though he adds that there are more complex issues besides economics. The entomologist, as well as licensed beekeeper, has dealt with numerous challenges while developing a similar device called the Wasp Hound, which uses a batch of five wasps to detect the presence of bedbugs. Rains’ system is a bit more elaborate in that it uses a camera to record the wasps’ behavior. The data is then fed into software that analyzes these movements to determine if the bugs actually did indeed detect these unwanted guests. After over a decade of development, Rains has forged a partnership with Bennett Aerospace, an engineering firm, to refine the technology for large-scale real applications.

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Bee Research indicates fungicide aggravates decline

Bee Research Laboratory.

n many cases, the pollen that bees brought back came primarily from plants other than the targeted crop. Some pollen samples contained very few pesticides, but the average number seen in a pollen sample was nine different pesticides, which could include insecticides, herbicides, miticides and fungicides.

Fungicides were the most frequently found chemical substances in the pollen samples. The most common was the fungicide chlorothalonil, which is widely used on apples and other crops. The most common miticide was fluvalinate, which beekeepers use to control varroa mites. Neonicotinoid insecticides were only found in pollen from bees foraging on apples.

“Honey bees that were fed pollen that contained the fungicide chlorothalonil and was collected at the hive entrance were almost three times more likely to become infected when exposed to the parasite Nosema, compared with control bees,” explained study author Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. The lab is part of ARS, USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

The fungicide pyraclostrobin, which was found less frequently in the pollen samples, also increased bees’ susceptibility to Nosema infection.

“Our study highlights the need to closely look at fungicides and bee safety, as fungicides currently are considered safe and can be sprayed during the bloom on many crops,” said co-author Dennis vanEngelsdorp with the University of Maryland. “We also need to better understand how pesticides are getting into the hive. Clearly it is not just from collecting pollen from the crops that bees are being used to pollinate.”

These findings provide new information useful in understanding the myriad of problems affecting honey bees in the United States, including colony collapse disorder, dwindling honey bee colonies, and other health problems in managed bee colonies, Pettis added.

One unexpected finding was that honey bees collected relatively little pollen from blueberry and cranberry plants, which are both crops that originated in the New World. Despite this lack of pollen collection, researchers know that bees do pollinate these plants. Honey bees were brought to North America from Europe along with Old World crops such as almonds and apples, which co-evolved with honey bees as their pollinators.

 

Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought – Quartz

Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought – Quartz.

 

It’s not one chemical, it’s the toxic soup from industrial agriculture, including fungicides on apples…

exerpt:

“There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told Quartz.

Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides.

Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.

In recent years, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths and in April regulators banned the use of the pesticide for two years in Europe where bee populations have also plummeted. But vanEngelsdorp, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, says the new study shows that the interaction of multiple pesticides is affecting bee health.

“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be believe,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

wild bees are your best friend!

wild bees are your best friend!

Why We Need Natives Yet with all the attention being paid to honeybees, I wonder if we’re overlooking an even more important story: the critical role wild, native bees play pollinating plants both in natural and agricultural systems. And unlike domestic honeybees, these natives do it for free. Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, made precisely this point when I interviewed him recently for an upcoming story in National Wildlife magazine. Bees are by far the most important pollinators in natural ecosystems, Vaughan told me. The insects also are essential to producing more than a third of all foods and beverages humans consume. “In the United States alone, native bees contribute at least $3 billion a year to the farm economy,” Vaughan said. “We grossly overlook the critical role these animals play.” Bumblebee on buttonbush by Laura Tangley A bumblebee feeds on buttonbush at NWF’s office in Reston, Virginia. Photo by Laura Tangley. Wild Pollinator Champs I learned about that role a few years ago working on another article, “The Buzz on Native Pollinators,” that described research conducted by ecologist Rachel Winfree of Rutgers University. Winfree had just published in Ecology Letters results of a study finding that on 21 out of 23 farms in the Delaware Valley of New Jersey, wild bees fully pollinated commercially grown watermelons with no help from honeybees. “If we lost all honeybees in this region to colony-collapse disorder tomorrow,” she said, “between 88 and 90 percent of the watermelon crop would be fine.” This February, Winfree and dozens of colleagues published results of much larger study in Science that looked at a diversity of fruit, seed, nut and other crops growing in 600 fields on all continents except Antarctica (where no food is grown). They found that visits by wild bees increased production at all study sites, compared with just 14 percent for managed honeybees. The upshot: Wild bees were more effective crop pollinators than were domestic honeybees. If honeybees continue to decline—and many experts suspect they will—wild bees will become even more important in the future. Worrisome as colony-collapse disorder is, it may have had “a silver lining,” Scott Hoffman Black, the Xerces Society’s executive director, told me. “Now many more people know that their food is pollinated, and that we need native bees and other wild animals to do that.” Certify Your Wildlife GardenHelp wild bees by growing native plants they need to thrive, then turn your yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat® site. This month only, Garden For Wildlife Month, NWF will plant a native tree for every property certified. By: Laura Tangley Laura Tangley’s Bio // Archive of Posts Get Laura Tangley’s Feed

via In the Buzz About Bees, Don’t Forget the Natives : Wildlife Promise – Mozilla Firefox.

Wild bees boost harvest more than honeybees – Technology & Science – CBC News

Wild bees boost harvest more than honeybees – Technology & Science – CBC News.

However, many wild insects serve as pollinators also. Most of them are among the 20,000 species of bees, such as bumblebees, mason bees, and many that are less familiar.

“Most bees are kind of a centimetre long, and most people would think they were a fly or something,” Harder said.

He added that flies such as hoverflies and, to a much lesser extent, butterflies also act as pollinators.

Honeybees may promote inbreeding

It’s not clear why honeybees aren’t as effective pollinators as other insects, since the study found that they actually transfer more pollen than wild pollinators.

However, Harder said it may be that honeybees may have a greater tendency to promote plant inbreeding, which may lead to fewer viable offspring in the form of seeds.

Because plants are hermaphroditic, that allows for “the extremely close form of inbreeding of mating with yourself,” also known as self-pollination, Harder said.

“Honeybees may tend to move more between flowers on the same plant, resulting in self-pollination, whereas the wild insects visit a fewer number of flowers on an individual plant before they move to the next plant.”

Wild pollinators declining

Unfortunately, Harder said, there is evidence that many wild pollinators are on the decline.

A new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, also published in Friday’s issue of Science, compared the bees and flowering plants near Carlinville, Il. In the late 1800s with those that existed in 2009 and 2010 and found half the bees associated with 26 spring-blooming flowers had disappeared. Meanwhile, some pollinators no longer visited their plants as often and those that did visit weren’t carrying as much pollen.

Many wild pollinators nest in the ground or in hollow twigs, and their nesting sites may be disturbed when fields are plowed, harvested or otherwise worked for agriculture, Harder said.

While farmers may be tempted to clear and plant all available agricultural land, the study suggests that leaving patches of land in their natural state could improve the yields of some crops by providing habitat for wild pollinators, Harder said.

“Canola and fruit crops would benefit from this kind of practice of leaving more natural area for native flowering plants and for the stability of nesting areas.”

The study was led by Lucas Garibaldi, a researcher at the National University of Río Negro in Argentina. In addition to Harder, its 50 authors included one other Canadian, Steven Javorek, a Kentville, N.S.-based scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who conducted the part of the study involving a blueberry field in P.E.I.