Bee Gold: Why is honey a super food for insects?

Not surprisingly, bees have a lot of information about honey. They are not only producers of honey, but also consumers, and at the same time they are very complex creatures. For example, give a sick bee different types of honey and She chooses the honey that fights her infection best.

Numerous studies have shown that honey is rich in phytochemicals that affect bee health. The components in honey can help bees live longer, increase their tolerance to harsh conditions such as extreme cold, and increase their ability to fight infections and heal wounds. These findings point to ways to help bees that have been severely damaged by parasites, pesticide exposure and habitat loss in recent years.

“It’s very remarkable, and I think people may not have fully grasped its value yet,” said May Bernbam, an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

When buying honey, think about whether it is delicious on toast or stirred in tea; But honey is much more than a sweetener. Of course, this viscous liquid mainly contains sugars that the hive members use for nutrition, but it also contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals and organic molecules that give each honey its unique properties and many health benefits. Brings to bees.

About 120 million years ago, bees evolved into a genus different from beeless and stinging bees during the evolution and growth of flowering plants. This variety of flowers – along with the change in the behavior of bees in feeding pollen, instead of insects, to bee larvae – led to the evolution of about 20,000 known bee species today.

Bees in the hive - Attar Khan

Becoming an expert honeymoon required a few more behavioral and chemical tricks. The bees began to add some nectar to the pollen, which made it more portable. They also created wax-secreting glands that provided a way to store liquid nectar and solid pollen separately.

“Wax makes it possible to make a very flexible building material,” says Christina Grozinger, an entomologist at Penn State University who studies the underlying mechanisms of social behavior and bee health. “When bees form a beehive, the wax forms a hexagon, which seems to be the most efficient way to hold something, because the hexagons are tightly closed.” “This is an engineering masterpiece,” Grozinger said.

Making many small, uniform cells has another advantage: more surface area means water evaporates faster, and less water means less microbial growth in honey.

The honey-producing process that fills the shoulder cells begins as soon as the bee collects and processes nectar and pollen. Although it may seem like he is eating it, this sweet snack does not end up in his stomach, at least not in the traditional sense. He stores it in the stomach of honey, where it is mixed with various enzymes.

One of the first enzymes to come into action is invertase, which splits nectar sucrose molecules in half and produces the simple sugars glucose and fructose (strangely, research shows that bees have the gene needed to make this sucrose enzyme The microbe that lives in the bees’ intestines probably makes it. After returning to the hive, the bee transports the cargo to the first bee assembly line. The following mouth-to-mouth route reduces the water content and adds more enzymes, processes that continue to break down nectar and stop the growth of microbes.

The bees then place the mixture in the hive cell, then evaporate more water by moving their wings. Another enzyme, glucose oxidase, works by converting some of the glucose into gluconic acid, which helps preserve honey. The chemical reaction also lowers the pH – increases acidity – and produces hydrogen peroxide, which inhibits the growth of germs but can be toxic at high levels. More enzymes that may enter with pollen and yeast break down some of the peroxide and control its level.

Finally, each cell, filled with honey, is ready to be covered with wax. The nurse bees give the processed honey to the other members of the hive and store the rest for cold or rainy days.

Sweet medicine

Nectar is what led Burnham to honey, an interest that first blossomed in the mid-1990s. He knew that nectar was enriched with phytochemicals called phytochemicals: compounds that prevent pests and promote plant growth and metabolism. He thought that when bees turn nectar into honey, it will also contain these phytochemicals. And so he wanted to know what they might do for the bees.

So Mayburnham began to study the diversity of chemicals in honey. In 1998, his team discovered that different honeys contain different levels of antioxidants, depending on the origin of the honeysuckle. “It piqued my interest,” he says. His team later found that bees fed sugar water mixed with two phytochemicals – p-coumaric acid and the powerful antioxidant quercetin – tolerated pesticides better than those fed empty sugar water. . In addition, bees that received water containing phytochemicals lived longer.

Other research has revealed the effects of additional phytochemicals in honey. Studies show that abscisic acid enhances the immune response of bees, improves wound healing time and tolerates cold temperatures. Other phytochemicals reduce the effects of parasites, which are one of the main reasons for the decline in bees: for example, giving a thymol-containing syrup, a phytochemical from thyme, to fungal-infected bees more than halves the number of fungal spores. decreases. Phytochemicals have even been shown to inhibit bacteria that cause European and American diseases, the latter of which is so destructive and contagious that it is recommended to burn the hives completely to prevent them from spreading.

Itochemicals may also promote health by keeping the microbial communities that live on and on bees alive: Microbiomes They are. Caffeine, gallic acid, p-coumaric acid and camphorl all improve the diversity and quantity of bee gut microbes. Researchers reported last year in the Journal of Applied Microbiology that Microbiomes Intestinal health in bees is associated with a lower incidence of multiple parasitic infections.

Bees are processing honey - Attar Khan

Entomologist Silvio Erler and his team presented parasite-infected bees with four types of honey. “The Erler, now at the Julius Can Institute in Germany,” says Erler.

We simply gave the bees a choice. The sick bee preferred sunflower honey, which was the best medicine for infection and had the highest antibiotic activity.

Can a bee cure itself?

Despite boosting the immune system and other health benefits of honey, bees are still in trouble. In the United States, between April 2020 and April 2021, beekeepers lost 45% of their colonies. It seems important for beekeepers to often leave some honey in the hive: Research shows that different honeys, obtained from different plants such as sunflower or a combination of flowers, repel different types of bacteria.

Erler likens this variety to a pharmacy. “We go to the pharmacy and say we need some medicine for a headache and some medicine for a stomach ache. And we have it all in the pharmacy. ”

Despite boosting the immune system and other health benefits of honey, bees are still in trouble

But bees can only make their own honey pharmacy if the right flowers are available – Not only in terms of number and variety, but also during the growing season. Arati Seshaderi, an entomologist at the USDA Department of Bee Health Lab in Davis, California, says that Improving the diversity of flowers promotes the health of bees.

Better feeding of bees does not solve all the problems that bees face. But ensuring bees have access to their medicines can help, Erler says. He suggests that Beekeepers can put pieces of honey prepared from different flowers in the hive so that the bees have a well-equipped honey pharmacy all year round.