Probiotics Could Help Bees Survive Pesticides

probiotics help bees

By Heather CallaghanEditor

Probiotics could improve survival rates in honey bees exposed to pesticide, study finds

In yet another study, Canadian researchers were able to demonstrate the power of probiotics in fostering strength to bees who are unavoidably exposed to pesticides. This time it was Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University that sought to protect struggling honey bees from the unequivocally toxic effect of pesticides.

Honey bees, they said, are non-negotiable for agriculture as they pollinate approximately 35% of the global food crop and contribute approximately $4.39 billion per year to the Canadian economy. They had no problem leveling responsibility at neonicotinoid insecticides, which they said are a major factor in colony collapse disorder – a problem that is killing pollinators around the globe.

    READ: How Grateful Dead is Saving Bees Through Jerry Garcia

Dr. Gregor Reid, Director for the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotic Research at Lawson, and Professor said:

The demise of honey bees would be disastrous for humankind. A current dilemma in agriculture is how to prevent bee decline while mitigating crop losses. We wanted to see whether probiotics could counter the toxic effects of pesticides and improve honey bee survival.

Brendan Daisley and Mark Trinder in Dr. Reid’s lab at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Ontario utilized fruit flies as a well-known model for studying pesticide toxicity in honey bees. (Interestingly, fruit flies are a common surrogate model for humans, too.) Both insects are affected similarly by neonicotinoids, have very similar immune systems, and share many common microbes present in their microbiota.

Fruit flies exposed to one of the world’s most commonly used neonic pesticides, imidacloprid (IMI), experienced changes to their microbiota and were more susceptible to infections. The flies were exposed to a proportionate amount of pesticide as honey bees in the field.

How it Works

By administering a specific strain of probiotic lactobacilli, survival among fruit flies exposed to the pesticide improved significantly. “The mechanism involved stimulating the immune system through a pathway that insects use to adapt to infection, heat and other stresses,” they reported.

Daisley said,

Our study showed that probiotic lactobacilli can improve immunity and potentially help honey bees to live longer after exposure to pesticides.

Other observations:

  • During the winter, bee deaths have steadily increased between 38% to 58% in recent years, 2-3 times higher than the sustainable level.
  • In Ontario alone, 340 bee keepers reported an abnormally high number of bee deaths, with over 70 per cent of dead bees testing positive for neonicotinoid residues (Source: Government of Ontario).
  • Probiotic lactobacilli could be easily administered through “pollen patties”, which are used by beekeepers to provide extra nutritional support and anti-pesticide effects to honey bees

Why This Study Outshines Others

While researchers want to delve further perform actual field tests on honey bee populations in Ontario, they did demonstrate that probiotics promote a tangible benefit on hardworking honey bees. Coincidentally, there is a growing awareness that antibiotics are the latest threat to our bees, so it makes sense that a probiotic would alleviate them.

A previous study in Asia, found probiotics could increase gut bacteria that could ward off pesticide poisoning. However, upon closer inspection, you can clearly see that this study benefits biotech by genetically engineering genes into a strain of bacteria – Gilliamella apicola – and then reintroducing it to bees to spread among the hives. Is it just me or does that seem just a bit risky?

Unlike the genetic engineering/change-the-entire-ecosystem solution, Dr. Reid shares this writer’s opinion of a better and less volatile solution, which tells you where their research goals are truly stemming from:

While cessation of pesticide use would be ideal, farmers currently have little alternative to obtain the yields that keep their businesses viable. Until we can cease using pesticides, we need to find ways to protect humans and wildlife against their side effects. Probiotics may prove as an effective protective intervention against colony collapse disorder.


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 favorite-velva-smallHeather Callaghan is an independent researcher, writer, speaker and food freedom activist. She is the Editor and co-founder of NaturalBlaze as well as a certified Self-Referencing IITM Practitioner.

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