Mushrooms Could Be Key To Saving Bee Populations From Colony Collapse

Mushrooms Could Be Key To Saving Bee Populations From Colony Collapse
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With bee populations in different parts of the world declining due to colony collapse, a mushroom retailer has reportedly come up with his own home remedy for the situation, a product which he claims first came to him in a dream.

Speaking to the Seattle Times earlier in the week, Paul Stamets explained how he first realized mushrooms could be instrumental in helping prevent colony collapse in 1984 when he spotted a large and steady stream of bees flying from his mushroom patches to his beehives. The bees were reportedly transporting wood chips in order to gain access to the mushrooms’ mycelia, or vegetative filaments. This was where Stamets recalled seeing the bees “sipping on the droplets” of the mycelia, possibly for the sugar contained within.

It was only a few decades later when everything began to come together for Stamets, who was, at that time, baffled by the problem of colony collapse, and how wild and commercial bee populations around the world have seen their numbers decline due to mites, pesticides, viruses, and other factors.

“I connected the dots,” Stamets said, recalling the “waking dream” he had right before coming up with his solution.

“Mycelium have sugars and antiviral properties. What if it wasn’t just sugar that was useful to those mushroom-suckling bees so long ago?”

Thanks to Washington State University entomology professor Steve Sheppard, Stamets was able to turn his realization into actual scientific research. In a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, Sheppard and a team of researchers detailed how Stamets’ mushroom mycelia additive was able to reduce the presence of certain viruses in bees who were given small doses of the substance. These viruses are associated with the parasitic Varroa mites, which have been blamed for much of the colony collapse that has been plaguing bee populations since the late 1980s.

A report from Newsweek explained the methodologies used by Sheppard and his colleagues, noting that the team started by testing two groups of bees that had both been exposed to Varroa mites. The first group was given a blend of sugar and Stamets’ mushroom extract, while the second group was only given sugar. According to study co-author Brandon Hopkins, an assistant research professor at WSU, the additive “reduced the virus to almost nothing” in many of the strains that were tested.

While Stamets’ mushroom-based extract showed a lot of promise when it was tested, more research needs to be done before his homemade substance can be used to save bee populations. According to the Seattle Times, the reason why the bees benefited from the extract has yet to be determined, as the researchers believe it could be either because it boosts the bees’ immune system, or because the additive works directly against viruses.

For now, more tests are being conducted, as Stamets reportedly designed a 3D-printable feeder that could distribute the mushroom mycelia extract to wild bees. If all goes well, Stamets plans to make his solution available to the public via “extract-subscription service” sometime in 2019.