When it comes to finding the cause of global decline in honeybee populations and the threat to food supplies, researchers all over have been working high and low, making contributions to the debate as they go. There is a new piece to the ongoing puzzle, and it has to do with pesticides, which many scientists agree are one of the probable causes for honeybee decline. A group of researchers, led by Tomasz Kiljanek, at the National Veterinary Research Institute in Poland performed a study in which they came up with a method that can simultaneously detect up to 200 pesticides in honeybees. They understood that while current methods could help remove dangerous pesticides one at a time, to affect real change immediately researchers need to be able to test as many as possible to determine which are most harmful.
Harm from pesticides can come in many fashions–a single dose, combined drug interactions, or simple accumulation of many over time. Given that even low doses can weaken bees’ immune systems, Kiljanek and his team saw the need for a more sensitive and reliable detection method for as many pesticides as possible. According to Kiljanek, he and his colleagues developed their method for detecting pesticides in honeybees from a system called QuEChERS, which is used to detect pesticides in food.
However, Kiljanek ran into sampling issues when it came to accidentally removing some of the bees’ compounds with that of the pesticides. For how small a honeybee is, its body is very complex, and samples have to be cleaned well before they could remove compounds like beeswax, chitin, and proteins. They also had to be careful that the cleaning agents didn’t leave impurities in their samples, which can majorly tamper results. Given time, Kiljanek and company validated their method and eventually became able to test for 200 kinds of pesticides at once. In 70 investigated honeybee poisoning incidents, they found 57 pesticides present in the bees–a huge accomplishment that is only slightly testing the waters at the same time.
The goal of this study, as Kiljanek put it, was to “expand our knowledge about the influence of pesticides on honeybee health, and it will provide important information for other researchers to better assess the risk connected with the mix of currently used pesticides.” While pesticides are only one part of the problem when it comes to honeybee decline, they are also an easily solvable problem that Kiljanek’s team knew could be addressed with enough time and dedication in a proper study.
Honeybees are essential parts of ecosystems around the world, with one third of the food alone gracing US plates coming from crops pollinated by the little insects. Global decline equals a global concern, and hopefully many more countries can benefit from the efforts of Kiljanek’s team’s study and more like it.