Pesticides which don’t kill bees are almost a reality

Revolutionary, be-friendly pesticides could appear on the market soon, following a breakthrough development.

While it is agreed that pesticides can have their uses, the detrimental effect on the world’s bee population has been well documented. The steep decline in bee numbers, which has a direct effect upon the pollination of many vital crops, has been attributed to a mixture of pesticide use and habitat loss.

A report from the Center for Biological Diversity, published in TIME, highlighted that ‘more than 1,400 bee species provided sufficient data for the assessment. More than half of those species are on the decline and nearly a quarter is at risk of extinction, according to the report.

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“We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” said study author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher, in a statement. “If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place.”’

Greenpeace have launched an emergency awareness programme to help people learn more about the importance of conserving bee populations.

Bees and other pollinating insects play an essential role in ecosystems,” says Greenpeace,  “A third of all our food depends on their pollination. A world without pollinators would be devastating for food production.

Who would pollinate all the crops?

Hand-pollination is extremely labour-intensive, slow and expensive. The economic value of bees’ pollination work has been estimated around € 265 billion annually, worldwide. So, also from a purely economic point of view, it pays to protect the bees.”

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The Independent UK further examined the possibilities outlined by these new findings: “In this new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, a team of scientists has investigated the natural resistance shown to some insecticides by bumble bees and honey bees, with the goal of applying this in the design of selective pesticides.   

Bees are very susceptible to most pyrethroid pesticides, but are resistant to a variety called tau-fluvalinate. The scientists found that the molecules targeted by pyrethroids in bee cells, so-called sodium channels, are able to resist the effects of tau-fluvalinate.

“For the first time we are showing that unique structural features in bee sodium channels interfere with the binding of tau-fluvalinate to bumble bee sodium channels,” said Professor Ke Dong, an insect toxicologist at Michigan State University and one of the study’s authors. 

“This opens the possibility of designing new chemicals that target sodium channels of pests but spare bees.””

The survival of bees is imperative to the continued state of the food chain. Without active pollination, our supermarket shelves could look very different indeed.

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