Fighting Bee Disease

Bees are not doing well in many nations of the world. Honeybee and bumblebee die-off is a well-documented phenomenon in a lot of nations.  Since bees are such important pollinators, scientists are desperately attempting to find ways to stabilize bee populations, by either eliminating their diseases or finding ways to treat them.  Two recent studies appear to offer some hope in this regard.  This article will review both studies and attempt to make sense of them in light of creation science.

Why exactly bee populations are in decline is something of a mystery.  Environmentalist groups have predictably blamed pesticides and parasites, but surprisingly, no less an environmental group than the EPA has stated that the effect of pesticides on bees is being massively overstated.   Probably the largest contributor to their decline is the accidental introduction of a couple species of bee parasites to the habitat of the bees.   However, recent reports indicate bee populations are stabilizing and may even be on the rise.  That said, they are still far lower than they should be and are still a concern to scientists.  Thus research continues to be conducted to hopefully find a way to raise the bee population back to more sustainable levels.

Researchers have been experimenting with all kinds of potential cures based on things bees eat in the wild. One study published recently feed honeybees and bumblebees a diet of pure sunflower pollen.  In bumblebees, this drastically reduced the risk of infection from a particular kind of pathogen.  It drastically reduced the rate of pathogenicity of another pathogen in honeybees.  The researchers are hoping to use this data to encourage the use of sunflowers to help regenerate bee populations.

However, all is not good news out of this study. The sunflower pollen, while protecting against a specific pathogen, had an overall deleterious effect on honeybee populations.  It did not demonstrate an overall benefit to honeybee populations and actually was four times worse for honeybee survival rates than buckwheat pollen.  Moreover, sunflower pollen lacks some essential amino acids and is low on proteins so it cannot be a staple of bumblebee diet longterm.

A second study released shortly thereafter looked exclusively at honeybees. The researchers created a mixture from a type of mushroom. The mushroom was ground into a powder and fed to the bees. The results were spectacular. It reduced the occurrences of wing deformation seventy-nine fold and reduced the occurrence of a particular virus an incredible forty-nine thousand fold! This research is still in its infancy but as it progresses, researchers hope to offer it to beekeepers at an affordable rate to strengthen their hives against disease.

The best part of this treatment is the researchers observed no downsides. It appears to be a pure benefit to the bees. If this study is correct, this is fantastic news for wild bee populations and beekeepers. Some articles are suggesting that researchers could potentially develop a spray that could be air delivered to an area where honeybees are afflicted with a disease to either eradicate or drastically reduce disease.

These are both positive signs. It’s exciting to see what science can do when it focuses its attention solving the problems afflicting society.  However, as with any study, it is wise to exercise some caution. Study results have been wrong before.  Further, I suspect that treating wide areas as some suggested instead of targeted populations as the researchers seem to suggest could be problematic. Let me explain why. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is directly linked to the overuse of antibiotics.  This could be a similar situation.  It has the potential to make this cure, if it can be reproduced in follow up studies, useless over time.

While this is all very interesting science, consider the implications to a creationist worldview. Bumblebees get medical treatment from sunflowers that they frequent anyway.  Honeybees also gain medical treatment from sunflowers, though they can’t live on it like bumblebees can. Is that an accident?  Did it just happen by millions of years of chance struggle and death? The concept of it happening that way is patently absurd! God knew man would sin in the Garden. He also knew what crucial role bees would play in pollinating plants and keeping the ground fruitful. So He designed bee food to be medicinal for them in the post-fall world. It really is not that difficult to conceive that an all-mighty, omniscient God could plan ahead in this ultimately tiny detail of His creation.


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