Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New technique could help solve mystery of vanishing bees

Ecologists have developed a better way of rearing bee larvae in the laboratory that could help discover why honey bee populations worldwide are declining. The technique, together with details of how statistics adapted from other areas of ecology can aid bee research, is published this week in the British Ecological Society's journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Human food security depends on bees because they pollinate so many of our crop plants. As a result, worldwide declines in both honey bee colonies and solitary bees are causing widespread concern. But faced with declines that seem due to the combination of several factors, including diseases, agricultural chemicals and loss of habitat, researchers urgently need better ways of studying bees in the laboratory.

Now, a team of ecologists from the University of Würzburg, Germany has devised a better way of rearing honey bee larvae in the laboratory that should make it easier to study the causes of their decline.

The current method of rearing bees in the laboratory has major drawbacks. It involves a process known as “grafting”, where the tiny first instar bee larvae around 1mm long are collected using feathers, brushes or needles. As well as being time consuming and demanding considerable skill, the mechanical stress involved in handling causes mortality among the tiny larvae.

To avoid handling the larvae, the researchers allowed honey bee queens to lay eggs directly into an artificial plastic honeycomb about the size of a cigar box. The plastic honeycomb is widely used by professional honey bee queen breeders, and by using in the laboratory the team found rearing bee larvae much easier and more successful.

According to lead author and keen bee-keeper Harmen Hendriksma: “The artificial comb has a hexagonal pattern with 110 holes the size of wax cells. The queen lays her eggs directly into these small plastic cells. Because the back of each cell has a small plastic cup, we can collect the larvae without handling them.”

Before starting his PhD in 2008, Hendriksma spent four years working with a new Dutch company producing honey for medical uses. Seeing it used by queen breeders, he decided to try out the plastic honeycomb in the laboratory.

“Like many people I am a bit lazy and wanted to find a quicker, easier way of rearing honey bees in the laboratory. When I tried using the plastic honeycomb system I found it was just perfect,” he says.

Hendriksma and his colleagues found that when using the plastic honeycomb, almost all (97%) larvae survived. And because it is straightforward and simple to use, researchers were able to collect more than 1,000 larvae in 90 minutes.

By introducing a robust, standardised way of rearing larvae the technique should also help improve the quality of bee research because the results of experiments conducted in different laboratories will be more directly comparable.

The study also shows that applying statistical approaches used in other areas of ecological science can help bee researchers to better analyse their results.

Says Hendriksma: “Bee research is like an arms race, where researchers try and keep up with monitoring emerging new risks to bees. Because so many factors – such as environmental pollution, new agricultural pesticides, bee diseases, changing habitats and bees' genes – may be playing a part in the loss of our bees we need better ways of analysing our results.”

The study was funded by the German ministry for education and research (BMBF, Berlin).

Harmen Pieter Hendriksma, Stephan Härtel and Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter (2011), 'Honey bee risk assessment: New approaches for in vitro larvae rearing and data analyses', doi: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2011.00099.x, is published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution on Tuesday 22 March 2011.

Notes for editors
1. For further information and photographs please contact Harmen Hendriksma, University of Würzburg, tel: +49 (0)931 31-82385, mob: + 49 (0)15159 996927, email:

2. Copies of the paper are available from Ben Norman, Wiley-Blackwell, tel: +44 (0)1243 770375, email: or Gunnar Bartsch, Press Officer, University of Würzburg, tel: +49 (0)931 31-82172, email:

3. Methods in Ecology and Evolution is published by Wiley-Blackwell for the British Ecological Society. Contents lists are available at

4. The British Ecological Society is a learned society, a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. Established in 1913 by academics to promote and foster the study of ecology in its widest sense, the Society has 4,000 members in the UK and abroad. Further information is available at

Gunnar Bartsch | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>