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How to Protect Bees From Pesticides? With Small Rapid-Test Strips

A new rapid-test strip has been developed to detect dangerous pesticide residues on samples and aid bee protection.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 80 per cent of the world’s crop varieties are, in one way or another, dependant on bee pollination for good yield and quality. Without the help of bees and other pollinators, various produce ranging from tomatoes and apples, to almonds and cocoa would fail to bear fruit. Considering its importance and contributions to agriculture, farmers and scientists alike have endeavoured to preserve bee populations. Unfortunately, since 2006, honey bees have been at risk with many beekeepers continuously losing up to 45 per cent of their hives every winter.

While the true cause behind declining bee populations has yet to be fully understood, scientists have long speculated that pesticides, especially those used in industrial agriculture, play a major role in the reduction of these insects. One such pesticide is neonicotinoids, which are widely used in corn, wheat, and soy production. Neonicotinoids are highly systemic and therefore, toxic to bees. Even at low doses, they can pose serious health hazards to bees, like reducing their capacity for learning and memory, as well as undermining their immune function. Given these dangerous side effects, scientists have tried to develop tools that can rapidly track and detect residues of pesticides in nectar crops and hive environments.

Now, a group of scientists at Zhejiang University have developed a lateral flow chromatographic device based on the antigen-antibody immuno-reaction that can screen out six different types of neonicotinoids on-site. Their novel device takes shape in the form of immunoassay strips and can be used to detect neonicotinoid residues in various samples frequented by bees, such as foraging plants, pollens, water, honey, and even bee bodies.

For many years, Associate Professor Guo Yirong and colleagues at the Institute of Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology in Zhejiang University have sought to develop rapid methods to detect pesticide residues in environmental and agricultural samples. Since 2017, the team has entered into the partnership with Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) at Wageningen University & Research to further their cause and finally came up with their latest innovation.

Compared to traditional methods of detecting pesticides, the lateral flow device is significantly more sensitive, simple, rapid, and easy to operate. It has also been shown to complement the cholinesterase inhibition method, which is a commonly-used rapid pesticide residue detection method that screens organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides. Besides its simplicity and compatibility with other methods, the rapid detection technology can be assembled into multiple series of testing strips and applied to fruits, tea, and other agricultural products. Additionally, the team has demonstrated that the strip is highly accurate to detect neonicotinoids, with an accuracy rate of over 90 per cent.

Presently, the team’s neonicotinoid residue rapid-test strip has been evaluated by the WFSR. It is also currently being endorsed by Waterdrinker, a grand flower company in the Netherlands, and is being applied to the EU-funded B-GOOD (Giving Beekeeping Guidance by Computational-assisted Decision-making) project.

By allowing for the rapid detection of this pesticide, experts believe that this novel test can become an effective tool to demonstrate the dangers of neonicotinoids and, therefore, limit their application in agricultural production. If successful, the reduced use of neonicotinoids is expected to improve the agricultural and ecological environment, protect public health, and promote the sustainable development of agriculture. [APBN]

Source: Institute of Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology in Zhejiang University