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Cornell researchers tackle global bee population problem

Beekeeper Bob Faulkner has thousands of bees at his company Syracuse Honey
Jessica Cain
Beekeeper Bob Faulkner has thousands of bees at his company Syracuse Honey

Researchers at Cornell University are working to develop a solution to a global problem: the decline of bee populations.

A new invention aims to help bees safely digest certain pesticides, which can be deadly to bees and destructive to colonies. Researchers said wax and pollen in 98% of hives in the United States are contaminated with an average of six different pesticides. It’s a problem that leads to beekeepers across the country losing an average of one-third of their hives.

James Webb, co-author on the study and CEO of the new company Beemunity, said the paper focused on organophosphate-based insecticides. A pollen-sized microparticle can be fed to bees in pollen patties or a sugar syrup to help their bodies safely manage exposure to those pesticides. He said early results have been successful.

"It broke down any organic phosphates that they had consumed and they were exposed to, so breaking down in their stomach into kind of non-toxic products,” said Webb. “Then, the bee would be able to survive that exposure because of this enzyme."

Researchers are continuing field trials and hope to start launching products to the general public this fall.

Bob Faulkner, the owner of Syracuse Honey, said he would be interested in learning more about the products. One of his goals is to save the bees, one colony at a time. He said pesticides are a major problem for beekeepers.

"I've got over 100 beehives now, and I certainly would like to see another tool in the bag to use to help the bees survive," said Faulkner.

Faulkner said he appreciates the research being done at Cornell because bees are crucial to the health of our ecosystem. He has about 250,000 bees in his backyard, and works to educate people about their importance.

"If we don't have bees, we don't have food, and if we don't have food, the planet dies, we die, so it's just my way of doing a little bit to make everybody in a good place," he said.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.