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The honey bee, a vital pest of crops and flowers, is being targeted by the pesticide DDT and other insecticides.
In recent years, bee populations in parts of the US and Europe have declined.
These declines have been blamed on the effects of DDT, a class of chemicals banned by the World Health Organisation in 1985.
Beekeeper Mike Brown, from the University of Minnesota, is one of those who has been working with honey bees to find ways to keep the insects healthier.
“There are two key things we need to do to keep bees healthy.
One is to improve their diet, the other is to increase their food intake,” he says.
Brown’s team are testing a variety of products to find out how bees can improve their diets, including probiotic honey, which is grown in a laboratory, and probiotic feed supplements, which are sold in supermarkets.
“They’re both really good things to try,” says Brown.
The team has also developed a honey bee diet that uses probiotic feeds instead of honey and honey products.
Brown says the results of the trials are promising.
“I think the honey bee is probably the best example of what you can do if you are interested in reducing pesticide exposure,” he said.
The bees have already been tested on the probiotic products and found they have no ill effects.
“These things are a bit of a mystery, but the results seem pretty promising,” says Michael Eberhardt, a professor of food science and director of the Centre for the Study of Pollen Insects in the University’s College of Agriculture.
Beekeepers say the products also have the added benefit of helping to combat the spread of diseases such as the Varroa mite, which can cause the hive to collapse.
“The probiotic supplement really does work,” says Eberstein.
“Bees are a lot more sensitive than we realise to the toxic compounds in our environment and it is just a matter of getting bees to consume these products in a way that will prevent them from being exposed.”
In this picture taken on March 4, 2016, a worker bee moves pollen on a feed in a hive at the Honey Bee Research Center in Duluth, Minnesota.
The researchers are currently studying whether there are other ways to reduce pesticide exposure for honey bees, and if there is.
The products they are testing also include honey bee protein supplements and probiotics, which Brown says can also be used for humans.
The bee researchers are also testing ways to improve the quality of honey bee milk and honey bee butter.
Brown and his colleagues are also working with beekeepers to identify the most effective ways to feed the bees, which will help ensure that they can feed themselves and their children well.
“What we have done is actually done something very simple, which has been doing something very complex, which I think has had some pretty interesting results,” says Dr Eberstadt.
The work will be published in the journal Nature Communications on April 10.