Honey Helps Bees Fight Colony Collapse Disorder

Honey can help stem the severity of Colony Collapse Disorder in bee populations, according to a new study.

Colony Collapse Disorder is a condition among honey bees whereby some of the bees mysteriously leave the colony and never return. Scientists are stumped as to what causes Colony Collapse Disorder and have blamed everything from pesticides to pests and pathogens. It is estimated that over 30 percent of honeybees disappear each spring due to the condition. However, the researchers feel that there may now be something to curb the effect of Colony Collapse Disorder: honey.

The researchers came to their conclusion by experimenting with a group of bees' diets. Bees, like other creatures, break down foreign substances like compounds and pesticides through a group of enzymes known as cytochrome P450. However, compared to other insects, honeybees have comparatively few genes dedicated to this task. The researchers wanted to find out which of the P450 genes the bees were using to conduct this process. To do so, they fed the bees "bee candy," a combination of powdered sugar and sucrose. They then mixed the bee candy with various chemical components found in honey extracts. They discovered that the strongest producer of detoxification genes was p-coumaric acid, a major component in honey.

"We found that the perfect signal, p-coumaric acid, is in everything that bees eat — it's the monomer that goes into the macromolecule called sporopollenin, which makes up the outer wall of pollen grains," study leader May Berenbaum said in a news release. "It's a great signal that tells their systems that food is coming in, and with that food, so are potential toxins."

Many beekeepers feed their bees with sugar water or high-fructose corn syrup. These new results suggest that maybe they should be feeding their bees honey instead, to help mitigate the effect of Colony Collapse Disorder.

"If I were a beekeeper, I would at least try to give them some honey  year-round," Berenbaum said. "Because if you look at the evolutionary history of Apis mellifera, this species did not evolve with high fructose corn syrup."

The results of the study on Colony Collapse Disorder are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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