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Bees Are Dying in Masses Throughout the World

Large numbers of honeybees are dying in large numbers all over the world. This mass die-off is being caused in part by a deadly virus that can either kill bees or impair their ability to return to their hives after foraging for nectar or pollen. However, according to a study published on September 28, 2021 in the journal iScience, researchers have discovered that a cheap and naturally occurring chemical compound can be used to prevent or reverse the effects of the virus in bee colonies. A study conducted in real time on hives revealed that bees fed the compound before becoming infected were nine times more likely to survive the virus after five days. Also, the researchers discovered that bees fed the compound were nine times more likely to return to the hive at the end of each foraging day.

The deformed wing virus, which is transmitted by a parasite known as a varroa mite, can infect bees at any stage of their lifecycle, including reproduction. Bees that have been severely infected will either die within days or develop wings that are inadequately developed, making it difficult for them to fly and forage. According to previous research, the virus can impair a bee's learning and memory, which could affect their ability to find their way back home after a food hunt. Because of a lack of food, lost bees are likely to die, and their colony may eventually collapse as a result of the loss of food.

In the words of Cheng-Kang Tang, first author and researcher at National Taiwan University, "Pathogens are definitely a stressor for bees." "However, because of concerns about food safety, the beekeepers do not want to use pesticides." As a result, we set out to discover some compounds that could help bees become more powerful."

Their research revealed that the virus suppressed the expression of genes associated with nerve signal transmission as well as several other biological processes related to learning and memory functions in honeybees, according to their findings. NaB, a chemical compound found in many plants that is known to increase the expression of a variety of genes in animals, including those involved in immune responses and learning, was identified as a potential candidate to protect them from it by the research team.

Lead author Yueh-Lung Wu of National Taiwan University and his team fed honeybees NaB-laced sugar water for a week before infecting them with the deformed wing virus in order to investigate NaB's effects on honeybees. More than 90% of these bees were still alive after five days, whereas 90% of the infected bees that did not contract NaB died during the same time period.

'Our findings indicate that feeding the insects with NaB prior to virus exposure can help to mitigate the pathogen's negative effects,' Wu says. Additionally, we have found in the past that NaB can upregulate some immune response genes in bees, which can aid in the suppression of viral replication as well as improving the chances of bees surviving.

Additionally, Wu's team conducted a research study on a bee farm. For about a month, they placed monitors at the entrances of several different beehives, each of which contained tens of thousands of foraging bees, in order to calculate how many bees left and returned home during the daytime hours. The researchers discovered that, on average, only half of the infected foraging bees were able to return to the hive after leaving it. In contrast, more than 80% of the bees that were fed with NaB sugar water before becoming infected found their way home by the end of the day, a rate that is comparable to the rate of uninfected bees.

"It is a really interesting study because we tested the effect of NaB on bees at multiple scales, starting at the genetic level and progressing to behaviors in the lab and then in the field under natural conditions," Wu says. Following that, they want to see if bees respond differently to the NaB supplement depending on the season, because the insects are known to change their behavior throughout the year.

"Sodium butyrate is extremely inexpensive. Consequently, if we can demonstrate its benefits, it would be a simple and affordable approach for beekeepers to use in order to keep their hives alive." Wu expresses himself. Bees pollinate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are important to the global economy, and as a result, they are critical to maintaining the ecosystem's balance. "Honeybees are important pollinators of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are important to the global economy, and as such, they are crucial to maintaining the balance of the ecosystem."

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