Technology makes its contribution to the benefit of bees. A new method makes it possible to identify which wildflowers these pollinators prefer, which would help prevent them from disappearing.
The statement that circulates so much: "without bees there would be no life", This is not an exaggeration and biologists confirm this. Without pollinators, a third of the food would disappear, and also part of the forage that is food for breeding animals, according to Jesús Manzano, member of the Board of the Fundación Amigos de las Abejas.
The bee population is known to be in great decline in the UK and across Europe. The main factors that threaten bees are the widespread use of pesticides, parasites, disease and climate change.
The loss of biodiversity poses a particularly specific threat to bees and other wild pollinators: the wild flowers on which they depend are also in severe decline.
One way to help increase bee numbers is to sustain and increase biodiversity by protecting and planting wild flowers. This provides adequate habitat for pollinators to disperse, nest and reproduce.
But what wildflowers to grow?
Farmers especially and the population in general need to know this information. It is vitally important, not only to save the bee population, but also to ultimately save ourselves.
A study carried out by the Earlham Institute in the UK has addressed the issue. A team of researchers has discovered a rapid analysis method called 'Reverse Metagenomics' (RevMet) that can identify plants that individual bees visit using the so-called MinION, a portable DNA sequencer from Oxford Nanopore Technologies.
This technique is a complete revolution compared to the previous method, optical microscopy, which identified the pollen grains collected by each of the bees, one by one; impractical and time-consuming method. Instead, this innovative method allows for a more precise understanding of the location of bees, to identify their preferred plants, without the need for laborious manual inspection of pollen.
The CSI of bees
In the work, the researchers analyzed 49 different species of wild plants from the UK.
This technique not only allows you to check which plants the bees like to pollinate; it also allows usunderstand whether certain wildflowers compete with agricultural flowers for pollinators, or the behavior of pollinators in large areas and types of land.
The method could also be used to study other mixed samples, such as manure, for diet analysis; and air, to identify airborne allergenic pollen and crop pathogens.
Source: Semi-quantitative characterization of mixed pollen samples using MinION sequencing and Reverse Metagenomics (RevMet) (2019) Methods in Ecology and evolution.