The global bee population has been dying off at an alarming rate over the past decade, a fact that many people aren’t too worried about. Hey, bee-stings are horrible and are responsible for the deaths of roughly 100 Americans each year, but there is one major problem associated with the decline of their population; approximately one-quarter of our diet comes from plants pollinated by bees.
Between April 2014-April 2015, American bee-keepers reported the loss of their colonies at an average of 42% per state and what’s even more concerning is that an exact cause can’t be determined for the high rate of death among bees. There are definite factors, such as pesticides, parasites, stress and lack of food sources, but there is no precise reason for what is now being referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. Fortunately for us, none of our staples are pollinated by bees, however, many agricultural crops are, a market worth almost $200 billion back in 2005, just before the bee’s decline. It’s not just about the money though, it is commonly believed that Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
It seems now that technology has our back. A team of scientists from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan have found a way to use drones to help do the dirty work on behalf of the bees by creating a specially-engineered adhesive that can collect and deposit pollen. While not trying to push the bees out of a job, drones could eventually be used to assist them to help alleviate the stress of pollination when bee numbers are lower. Here is their progress thus far according to Gizmodo:
Ten years ago Eijiro Miyako, an AIST chemist, created a gelatinous sticky compound ideal for picking up pollen for a completely different study. After stumbling upon it again while cleaning his lab, Miyako’s team tried unsuccessfully to use this substance on other insects such as ants and flies and leave them in the vicinity of flowers, however, the bugs just ended up covered in pollen. Their next step was try attaching a piece of animal fur to the bottom of a two-inch remote-controlled drone and coat the fur in the substance, of which the group recently published their results in the science journal Chem.
The study is far from ready for implementation, as the team only conducted their experiment on one species of flower and with just a remote controlled drone. To fully utilize this technique, drones using GPS and small enough to crawl inside flowers would be essential for successful pollination. But for fans of the dystopian British TV series Black Mirror, there is no need to panic; the intention of these drones is to work alongside bees, not replace them. As biologist David Goulson from the University of Sussex in the UK pointed out in his blog, we should be looking after bees, not planning for their demise.