Bees Delivering Pesticides

Looking for a better way to deliver?

This sounds so bizarre. At first. Canadian researchers have found an odd way to potentially deliver benevolent viruses, fungi, and bacteria to greenhouse vegetables. Before some lucky bees are allowed to fly inside glasshouses to pollinate peppers and cukes, they trudge across a little tray laced with organics that greenhouse growers would otherwise spray in their shops. The materials are hopefully harmless to bees, and well, since they are going to visit flowers anyway… It’s a bit like carrying the garbage out to the black bin as you leave the house for a morning jog. Or a bit like using viruses to carry meds to kill cancer cells. In the latter case, the virus is called a vector. In the greenhouse case, the insects are called bee vectors. There is even a company, Bee Vectoring Technology in Brampton, Ontario, which has developed a technique to do this. A company called Bee Vectoring Technology was apparently started to find ways to use bees to deliver organic pesticides, which are naturally occurring killers that should allow farmers to sell the resulting vegetables as organically produced food. In a “forward-looking statement” related to the acquisition of Bee Vectoring Technology by CT, a “capital pool company”, the following is announced:

“BVT and its scientific team have developed a globally patented bee vectoring technology; using bees to deliver commonly found organic fungi to flowering plants, acting as an organic pesticide as well as a fertilizer, all without water. The technology has been tested on and has been proven to effectively and organically control harmful diseases affecting important crops such as sunflowers, canola, strawberries, raspberries, pears, tomatoes, blueberries, almonds, peppers, eggplant, pumpkins, various melons, kiwi, apples and coffee, among others.”

Let’s take a close look at this statement. I deeply apologize and will immediately retract what I am writing if I have missed something here, but the entire paragraph makes no sense to me. At all. First, there is no such thing as a global patent. Each country (even North Korea, where the Dear Leader is Supreme Inventor) has its own system and if you invent something in Canada, you will need to apply for patents everywhere else. But, by the way, how does one patent the idea of forcing bees to trudge through gunk? Bee researchers at Guelph have been experimenting with bee vectors for years, so they should have precedence for the idea – as some US companies would as well. Next, how does “an organic pesticide” act as a fertilizer? Potash? Nitrogen? Sorry, I don’t get this, either. Next, the “technology has been…proven to effectively and organically control harmful diseases…” Harmful diseases? A disease such as an aphid or whitefly?

Sorry, those are not diseases, we are talking about delivering a pesticide to attack pests. Then, the list of plants. Did the company test their “globally patented” system on kiwis and coffee? Or do they otherwise somehow know that the technology works on “diseases” affecting these crops, “among others.” I went to the company’s website, clicked on their link for case studies, but it is written (at the time of this blog) in the Lorem ipsum language, which I don’t read very well. Allow me to quote, maybe you can understand this: “Sed auctor, sem et volutpat facilisis, risus leo venenatis leo, ultricies accumsan urna ante vel nisl.” That’s their case study about strawberries. (There’s more, you can go to the site and read the rest.)

Their information also states bees among sunflowers at a density of one colony per three acres (costing $43 per acre) increases commercial seed production – from 1,600 pounds per acre to 2,400 pounds (adding a value of $184 per acre). This may be true – pollination economically increases yield, as farmers have understood for at least a century. But the statement seems totally out of place, perhaps even implying that bees carrying pesticides on their tiny feet are the reason for the dramatic increase in farmers’ income. There are also statements around how the bees’ activity of delivering “Vectorite,” the carrying compound, plus the “selected bio control agent” acts as both “a pesticide eliminating disease, and a fertilizer, increasing yield.” Of course yield is increased – but I’ve never heard anyone call pollination by bees “fertilizer.” Unless there is some mysterious fertilizer in the Beauveria bassiana being applied to the flower stigmas. The system described for delivering bees to farmers is to take beehives with “300 bees per hive” to farmers’ fields at a density of one hive per acre. 300 bees per hive? They probably mean 50,000 bees per hive if they are talking about honey bees among sunflowers, which is what farmers rent for pollination. If they mean bumblebees, then they are not talking about delivering hives, but nests, and they will need more than one or two or even ten or twelve per acre. Bee Vectoring Technology and its new owners may be on to something really good, helpful, useful, and economically viable, but their information should have been reviewed more carefully before it was published.

So far the bees have been delivering Beauveria bassiana, a fungus that kills nasties like whiteflies, aphids and Lygus. And termites, bed bugs, mosquitos, various beetles, and thrips. And who knows what else? And, if the naturally occurring fungus isn’t tough enough, there is the GMO variety that could be applied to the bees’ knees. Unfortunately, a genetically modified version of the Beauveria bassiana fungus has escaped (or “leaked,” as they say) beyond its confinement area near a Christchurch university in New Zealand, much to the chagrin of the government and local farmers. I am not saying that the escaped GMO fungus is a bad thing. I’m just saying it escaped.

Where does this put us in this saga of bee vectors? Honey bees (and presumably bumblebees) can be forced to slug through natural (or GMO-modified?) fungi flakes which will stick to their paws and then get rubbed on flowers when the bees go about their pollination business. Sounds like an effective use of the bees’ energy. The stuff they carry can kill aphids, beetles, flies, and other creepies, but not hurt the bees. (I’m not sure why the bees are safe.) The farmers and greenhouse people can use fewer pesticides – instead of fogging the entire building or field, just the plants’ flowers are affected. That’s definitely a good thing. How does the public perceive the idea? Very well, it seems. CBC Windsor has an article about this research with a readers’ poll attached to the bottom. Exactly 2/3 of the 2,000 who have voted so far support the idea of bee vectors.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeeping.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
This entry was posted in Ecology, Pesticides, Pollination, Science, Strange, Odd Stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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