Improving honeybee health by enhancing the palatability of food supplements

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Posted on 16 May 2011

A £80,00 study which aims to improve the  taste of  artificial diets fed to honey bees has been awarded annual ‘seed-core’ funding from the British Beekeepers Association. The BBKA’s £17,600 grant  has enabled Keele University to obtain more than £60,000 from the Perry Foundation, to award a four- year  post graduate  scholarship to former student, Richard Bridgett.

Starting this month, Richard will work together with Dr Falko Drijfhout at Keele University and Dr David Aston, Chair of the BBKA’s Technical and Environmental Committee, to study methods to enhance honey bee health by looking for substances in pollen that stimulate bees to feed. BBKA members will  be taking part in the final stages of the project.
The team will launch a full investigation into determining which compounds are responsible for the palatability of pollen to the honey bee studying compounds from various pollen sources to determine if these compounds are common or specific to a plant species. These natural compounds can then either be isolated, or synthesised, and mixed in with pollen substitutes to increase their palatability.

Dr  Aston, said: “One of the major factors responsible for the global decline in honey bees is the nutritional status of the colonies. Poor nutrition affects bees’ resistance to disease.

“In certain parts of the world, it has been established that giving additional  pollen to a  honey bee colony , often in the form of pollen patties, has improved its strength. It is believed that feeding stimulants, natural compounds within pollen itself, influence honeybee feeding behaviour.

“This project shows clearly the benefit  to all beekeepers of the BBKA of working with researchers to obtain funding allowing this important project to go ahead.”

Firstly, chemical analysis of pollen will be undertaken at Keele University to isolate and identify potential phagostimulants -chemical compounds which stimulate feeding. Active extracts will be analysed using GC-MS or LC-MS, with the aim of identifying individual compounds that can then be tested as phagostimulants in phase two.
The second phase will be to utilise pilot bioassays -experiments used to measure the effects of a substance on a living organism- to test the activity of the extracts and individual compounds. This will be done using small numbers of bees, initially under controlled conditions, with the help of the honey bee laboratory at Sheffield University. 
The results of these trials will then be used to create artificial diets to be tested within the UK in phase three by  BBKA members feeding their colonies during early spring.
The ultimate aim is to produce more artificial bee diets containing all the essential nutrients and these feeding stimulants that will make these diets more palatable for the honey bee.

BBKA funding has come from donations raised by its Adopt a Beehive fundraising campaign which gives people who want to help honey bees without having a hive of their own, the opportunity to donate to bee health research and beekeeper education.


For further press information contact:
 Christine Gray, BBKA Press Officer, 07891 000207,  or Chris Stone, Keele University Press Office, 01782 733 375.