KIMA TV – ELLEN GORDON – Pullman, Wash. — Scientists at Washington State University are treating viruses in their honey bees with a mushroom extract.
WSU partnered with Fungi Perfecti out of Olympia to develop a mycelium extract from the amandou and reishi fungi. The team published a paper of their findings in the journal Scientific Reports. Fungi Perfecti founder Paul Stamets says he previously worked on a project showing the antiviral properties of mycelium extracts on human cells. Now, they have found that those anti-viral properties extend to honey bees.
In field trials, honey bee colonies fed the extract showed a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus, and a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus. Though the treatment is in its early stages of developments, researchers say they see great potential. One of the authors of the paper and a professor of entomology at WSU, Steve Sheppard, says he hopes that the extract treatment can help bees defend themselves against varroa mites, which carry viruses and can be devastating for bee colonies. Sheppard says the mites and these viruses are known to play a role in colony collapse disorder.
“Time is running out for the bee population”, says Sheppard, ” the safety and the security of the world’s food supply hinges on our ability to find means to improve pollinator health.” He says over the last decade, beekeepers have seen a disastrous decline in the health of honey bee colonies. Keepers are seeing an average of over 30 percent loss annually. Varroa mites and the viruses they carry play a major role in these losses.
Scientists say deformed wing virus causes shriveled wings on bees and reduces the life span of a worker bee. Lake Sinai virus is widespread in bee colonies in the United States, and was found at higher levels in bees from collapsing colonies.
Sheppard says it is not clear if the new mycelium extract is boosting the immune systems of treated bees, or if it is actually fighting the viruses. He hopes to learn more about how the extract is working when they begin testing on larger bee colonies.
Right now, the mycelium extract is not currently available for beekeepers to purchase for their hives, though the scientists plan to refine their research and make supplies available. Those interested in being kept up to date can go to www.fungi.com and sign up for more information.
A portion of the project was funded by the USDA.
Picture: Courtesy – WSU scientists helping honey bees with a fungus treatment