Scientists microchip bees to stop diseases and help farmers

15 Jan 2014

Scientists in Tasmania are using tweezers to glue sensors onto 5,000 honey bees to track their movements in an effort to stop the spread of diseases that have decimated bee populations in the northern hemisphere.

The microchips could help address so-called colony collapse disorder, where bees mysteriously disappear from hives and the encroachment of the parasitic varroa mite, Reuters reported scientists at Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), as having said.

Scientists calm the bees to sleep via refrigeration before gluing the sensors that measure 2.5 millimetres and weigh about 5 milligrams onto the insects. In some cases, young and hairier bees need be shaved before the scientists can apply the sensors that work like an electronic tag, recording when the bees pass a checkpoint.

Once the microchipped bees are out and about, the scientists will study how effective pesticides are in protecting them from varroa mite and colony collapse disorder.

The research should also provide farmers and fruit growers with more information on how to manage their crops, which are pollinated by bees, the CSIRO said in a statement.

“Honey bees play a vital role in the landscape through a free pollination service for agriculture, which various crops rely on to increase yields,” said Dr Paulo de Souzo of the CSIRO and who is also leading the project.

“Using this technology, we aim to understand the bee’s relationship with its environment. This should help us understand optimal productivity conditions, as well as further our knowledge of the cause of colony collapse disorder.”

Honey bee image via Shutterstock

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic