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Saving the bees: Cornell develops antidote for deadly pesticides

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ITHACA (WBNG) - A new Cornell University-developed technology provides beekeepers and farmers an antidote for deadly pesticides.

Studies have shown that wax and pollen in 98% of hives in the United States are contaminated with an average of six pesticides, which also lowers a bee's immunity.

Bee pollinators provide vital services by fertilizing crops that lead to the production of a third of the food we consume.

A new study, “Pollen-Inspired Enzymatic Microparticles to Reduce Organophosphate Toxicity in Managed Pollinators,” published in Nature Food, describes an early version of the technology which detoxified a widely-used group of insecticides called organophosphates

The antidote delivery method has now been adapted to effectively protect bees from all insecticides and has inspired a new company, Beemmunity, based in New York state.

First author Jing Chen is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of senior author Minglin Ma, associate professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology in CALS, is also a co-author.

A recent worldwide meta-analysis of in-hive pesticide residue studies found that, under current use patterns, five insecticides posed substantial risks to bees, two of which were organophosphates, McArt said

The researchers developed a uniform pollen-sized microparticle filled with enzymes that detoxify organophosphate insecticides before they are absorbed and harm the bee.

Bees that were fed the microparticles with a high dose of the enzyme had a 100% survival rate after exposure to malathion. Meanwhile, unprotected control bees died in a matter of days.

Beemmunity takes the concept a step further, where instead of filling the microparticles with enzymes that break down an insecticide, the particles have a shell made with insect proteins and are filled with a special absorptive oil, creating a kind of micro-sponge.

The company is running colony-scale trials this summer on 240 hives in New Jersey and plans to publicly launch its products starting in February 2022. Products include microparticle sponges that can be added to pollen patties or sugar water and consumer bee feeders in development.

The technology is licensed through Cornell’s Center for Technology Licensing(CTL). Ma and McArt are advisors for Beemmunity.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

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