Plant & Food to lead investigation into native honey

Plant & Food Research will be leading a national team of researchers looking at native honey composition and the characteristics that appeal most to consumers, thanks to new funding from the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

The new two-year project focuses on prominent native monofloral (single flower nectar) honey – predominantly from kānuka, rata, rewarewa and kamahi – produced by Te Pumautanga o Te Arawa (TPT) beekeeping activities on Department of Conservation areas in the Rotorua region.

The project will analyse examples of honeys from across the TPT’s different geographical regions to search for specific chemical signatures and potential unique biomarkers. It will also determine the consistency and flavours of honey that consumers prefer and consumer perceptions of Māori values and provenance. Continue reading

Biosecurity NZ’s annual survey shows increase in hive losses

More beekeepers than ever before responded to Biosecurity New Zealand’s seventh annual Winter Colony Loss survey.

This level of involvement and our beekeeper’s transparency in self-reporting shows how seriously they take biosecurity and the value of Biosecurity New Zealand’s support in strengthening the bee industry.

“Strong biosecurity systems and management of pests and diseases are essential to production and the data gathered this year will help beekeepers identify where they need to focus their management efforts,” says Dr Hall.

The Winter Colony Loss survey is conducted by Manaaki Whenua Landcare New Zealand to provide Biosecurity New Zealand with data to ensure support is directed where it’s most useful for the bee industry. Continue reading

Honey industry: researchers identify source of Unique Mānuka Factor

University of Waikato researchers have uncovered new insights into how mānuka flowers make nectar and the source of the Unique Mānuka Factor – which could contribute to the high-value New Zealand mānuka honey industry.

The research, published in the international scientific journal New Phytologist, was led by Associate Professor Mike Clearwater, a plant physiologist from Te Aka Mātuatua – School of Science at the University of Waikato.

The research investigated why the nectar producing parts of mānuka flowers, known as nectaries, produce the unique ingredients found in the honey. Nectaries are common in many flowering plants, but only mānuka and a small number of related species produce nectar with the active ingredient found in mānuka honey.

The researchers first noticed that in mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) the nectaries are green, unlike the colourless nectaries of other flowers. They then showed for the first time that nectary photosynthesis – the plant’s process of using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to create oxygen and sugar – could contribute to nectar production. This contrasts with many other flowers that produce their nectar sugars entirely within their leaves. Continue reading

Keeping abreast with the buzz about research on bees

We returned from the summer holiday break to find things have been quiet on the ag-hort science front in this country but ScienceDaily has been abuzz – so to speak – with news of research related to bees.

Among recent research findings are –

Shedding Light on the Secret Reproductive Lives of Honey Bees

Honey bee health has been on the decline for two decades, with US and Canadian beekeepers now losing about 25 to 40% of their colonies annually. And queen bees are failing faster than they have in the past in their ability to reproduce.

The reason has been a mystery, but researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia are finding answers. Continue reading

New research aims to increase longevity of bumblebee hives for NZ growers

New research backed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) could help bumblebee hives to live longer and be more efficient.

The new project is researching ways to protect the long-term sustainability of New Zealand horticulture, including how to enhance the performance of bumblebee hives using pheromones.

MPI is contributing $160,000 towards the $400,000 project through its Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund.

Dr Gunjan Gera, of Gourmet Waiuku Limited, is leading the project, supported by consultant Dr Jo Stephens.

Dr Gera says bumblebees are often used for pollination in berryfruit crops, glasshouses, and other covered crop areas because the bees tend to travel only about 200 metres from their hives and don’t mind enclosed spaces, whereas honeybees prefer to fly to flowers further afield. Continue reading

New publication and website show worldwide distribution of honey bee pests and pathogens

Western honey bees Apis mellifera L. have an important role as pollinators of agricultural crops, honey producers, and producers of hive-related commodities such as beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Knowing the global distribution of honey bee pests and pathogens is key to developing strategies for their control and limiting their further spread.

A review of honey bee pest and pathogen distribution was conducted by scientists at The University of Florida, Plant & Food Research and Bayer CropScience to update the work of Ellis & Munn (2005), with a special emphasis on new and emerging pests/pathogens and noting the spread of those pest/pathogens discussed in earlier reviews.

The updated review was also motivated by increased interest in loss rates of managed honey bee colonies, which has resulted in more publications on honey bee pests and pathogens.

An interactive system was adopted where the maps and tables provided at can be updated as needed by the author team. Members of the team will update the maps and tables early every year to reflect new information reported for any pest/pathogen the previous year. Additionally, maps will be updated if new (validated) findings are brought to their attention by readers/ users (details available on the website).

All tables and maps are free to download and use with appropriate citation (maps are open source). High resolution images were used to generate each map. You can see country status by zooming into the region or country of interest if the land area is too small to see at the whole-map level.

The following geographical considerations were noted by the scientists:

  • Even if a small area of the country is affected by the pest or pathogen, the whole country will still be marked as the pathogen being present.
  • Territories or states in the same country but separated by landmasses or bodies of water were not considered the same country, and treated separately.
  • Any now-defunct political entities were reported from the new geopolitical entities where possible. When not possible, all new entities that incorporated part(s) of the old entities were highlighted. This is intended to be fixed in the future by incorporating GPS coordinates for the locations where the various pathogens/pests were found.
  • Not all countries have robust beekeeping and/or scientific communications. Therefore if a pest/pathogen is not marked as ‘present’ in a country, it does not necessarily mean that it is not present.

Journal references

Boncristiani H, Ellis JD, Bustamante T, Graham J, Jack C, Kimmel CB, Mortensen A, Schmehl DR 2020. World Honey Bee Health: The global distribution of western honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) pests and pathogens. Bee World, DOI: 10.1080/0005772X.2020.1800330

Ellis JD, Munn PA 2005. The worldwide health status of honey bees. Bee World, 86:4, 88-101, DOI: 10.1080/0005772X.2005.11417323

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Proof is in the proteins: new way to validate mānuka honey

Scientists at the University of Auckland and Comvita Ltd have developed a new way to analyse honey by measuring the levels of proteins from mānuka nectar.

The team found 12 potential molecules which are all unique to the mānuka plant. They say this strategy could be used to authenticate honey products more easily and accurately.

The mass spectrometry analysis was performed by the Mass Spectrometry Centre, Auckland Analytical Science Services, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, and funded by Comvita NZ Ltd.

A brief report on the findings has been published by Scimex.

The paper to which Scimex readers are steered sets out four highlights:

•   Identification of unique peptides in NZ mānuka honey & L. scoparium nectar.

•   L. scoparium nectar peptides were not present in other plant species nectar.

•  Bottom-up proteomic approach using nano-liquid chromatography separation with HRMS.

•  Proteins were identified based on a predicted mānuka proteome and database searches.

The Abstract says:

Proteomics is an emerging tool in food authentication that has not been optimised for honey analysis. In this study, we present a qualitative proteomic analysis of New Zealand mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey.

A total of 50 bee-derived proteins were identified in the honey, the most predominant being major royal jelly proteins (MRJPs). We also demonstrate for the first time the presence of unique nectar-derived proteins in mānuka honey.

A total of 17 mānuka plant proteins were identified, a-third of which were putative pathogenesis-related proteins. Two proteins involved in drought tolerance were also identified.

Twelve candidate peptides were selected as potential authentication markers based on their uniqueness to mānuka honey. Nectar analyses confirmed the origin and specificity of these peptides to L. scoparium nectar, thus presenting peptide profiling as a viable and novel approach for mānuka honey authentication.

Raw data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD021730.

Link to research (DOI): 10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.128442

Source:  Scimex

Pesticides and food scarcity dramatically reduce wild bee population

American researchers have found that the combined threats from a loss of flowering plants and the widespread use of pesticides have reduced blue orchard bee reproduction by 57 per cent and resulted in fewer female offspring.

Just like humans, bees don’t face one single stress or threat, said lead author Clara Stuligross, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology at University of California – Davis.

“Understanding how multiple stressors interplay is really important, especially for bee populations in agricultural systems, where wild bees are commonly exposed to pesticides and food can be scarce.” Continue reading

Mānuka leaf study could help maximise high-grade honey production

University of Waikato researchers have found a unique group of microorganisms on the surface of mānuka leaves, which could help explain the wide variation in the antibacterial properties of mānuka honey.

The microbiome—a complex community of bacteria—was surprisingly specific and consistent for mānuka leaves, even across distant geographical locations, suggesting these bacteria may play important roles in how mānuka responds to stress and different environmental conditions.

Further research expanding on these findings could help develop strategies to maximise the production of high-grade mānuka honey. This would involve identifying specific microorganisms on the mānuka leaf surface that influence the production of antibacterial compounds.

University of Waikato PhD student and Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar Anya Noble was lead author on the study.

“I became intrigued by the microorganisms living on mānuka leaves while undertaking my Masters research,” says Ms Noble.

Studies on other plants have shown that leaf surface bacteria can influence the way plants function and grow in their environment. However, this had not been explored for mānuka, a plant with unique properties that scientists have not been able to explain completely, despite decades of research.

“Uncovering the effect of these microorganisms on mānuka will be the focus of investigation in my PhD,” she says.

The University of Waikato has a tradition of undertaking ground-breaking research on mānuka, which is a taonga (treasured) species indigenous to New Zealand, and the distinct attributes of its honey.

In 1981 Professor Peter Molan first discovered mānuka honey’s unique non-peroxide antimicrobial properties, which helped turn it into a highly valuable health product.

Ms Noble’s study is not the only mānuka investigation underway at the University of Waikato. Associate Professor Michael Clearwater and Waikato University PhD student Stevie Noe are currently studying the growth, flowering, and nectar production of mānuka in response to environmental factors like soil fertility. Dr Megan Grainger is researching the elemental profile of honey and the effect of metals on honeybees.

The paper, A core phyllosphere microbiome exists across distant populations of a tree species indigenous to New Zealand, was co-authored by:

  • Anya S. Noble, PhD student, University of Waikato
  • Stevie Noe, PhD student, University of Waikato
  • Associate Professor Michael J. Clearwater, University of Waikato
  • Dr Charles K. Lee, University of Waikato

It can be viewed on the PLOS ONE database.

Source:  University of Waikato

New research: a proba-bee-lity test and bee venom’s role in fighting breast cancer cells

Two separate items of news today record the results of Australian research into bees.

One of these tells us bees can learn very quickly which flowers are likely to give them the most nectar, according to Aussie researchers who essentially gave their bees a gambling challenge with five levers which would dispense sweet or bitter drinks.

They found the bees quickly learnt which colours were more likely to give a sugar reward, and used this to guide their foraging tactics.

Scimex reports:

“Our smart stripy friends might use the same proba-bee-lity tactics to figure out which flowers give the best nectar rewards when they’re out foraging, the researchers say.” Continue reading