Many bees are dying all over the world, which can seriously affect the sale and purchase of honey and its market. This death is partly due to a deadly virus that can kill bees or impair their ability to return to the hive after feeding. But in a study published in the September 28, 2021 issue of the journal iScience, researchers show that a cheap, natural chemical compound can prevent the effects of the virus on bees. Bees that were fed the compound before becoming infected survived 9 times longer than 5 days after the virus. By monitoring the hives in real time, the researchers also showed that the bees that fed the compound returned to the hive at the end of one more feeding day.
The deformed wing virus, transmitted by a parasite called the varroa mite, can infect bees throughout their life cycle. Infected bees die severely within a few days or their wings weaken; As a result, their ability to fly and search for nectar and pollen is impaired. Previous research has also shown that the virus can impair bees’ learning and memory, which can affect their ability to find a home after collecting nectar and pollen. Missing bees are more likely to die, and their colonies may eventually die due to lack of food.
“Pathogens are definitely stressful for bees,” said Cheng Kang Tong, the lead author of the article at Taiwan National University. But beekeepers do not want to use pesticides because of concerns about food safety (and the organic nature of honey). “So, we’re looking for some compounds that can increase the power of bees.”
Their study showed that the virus suppresses the function of genes involved in neurotransmission and several other biological processes related to learning and memory function in bees. The team found sodium butyrate (NaB), a chemical compound known to be found in many plants that enhances the function of various genes in animals (including those involved in immune responses and learning. are). This compound is known as a possible candidate to protect bees from this danger.
To investigate the effect of NaB on bees, lead author Yueh-Lung Wu of Taiwan National University and his team fed bees with NaB sugar for a week before being infected with the deformed wing virus. More than 90 percent of these bees survived after five days, while 90 percent of infected bees that did not receive NaB died during the same period.
“Our findings show that feeding insects NaB before exposure to the virus can counteract the negative effects of the pathogen,” says the lead author. “We have also previously found that NaB can regulate some of the immune response genes in bees, and this can help suppress virus replication and improve bees’ chances of survival.”
The research team also conducted an experiment on a bee farm. They placed monitors at the entrances of several different beehives – each with tens of thousands of feeding bees – to monitor the number of bees for about a month. The researchers found that, on average, only half of the infected feed grass bees were able to return to the hive. But of the bees that were fed NaB sugar before becoming infected, more than 80 percent went home by the end of the day; A significant amount comparable to infected bees.
“This is a really interesting study because we tested the effect of NaB on bees at different scales, from the genetic level to laboratory behaviors and then on the farm under a natural scenario,” says Wu. Next, they want to see if the bees respond to NaB supplementation during different seasons, as insects are known to change their behavior throughout the year.
“Sodium butyrate is really cheap. So, if we can prove its benefits, it is an easy and cost-effective way for beekeepers to keep their bees alive. Wu says. “Bees are important pollinators for the myriad of economically important fruits and vegetables around the world and are therefore important for maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.”