As concerns about declining bee populations grow, scientists are taking a rather extraordinary approach.
Scientists are doing something pretty incredible: they’re creating “robot bees” as a way to counter the impact of declining bee populations worldwide. Scientists in Japan have figured out a way to turn a regular bee in to a remote-controlled bee that can pollinate plants by attaching horsehairs that are coated with a sticky gel to the bee’s underbelly.
It’s a rather amazing system, but one that is not yet ready for real-life use. However, it’s a start toward developing an automated pollination technique that could compensate for big declines in bee colonies, according to a statement from Cell Press.
Flowering plants need to get pollen from their male parts into another flower’s female parts, and they need a third party, a pollinator, to carry it there. There are many creatures that do this, but bees are perhaps the most prominant. And it is more than an academic issue: animal pollinators are necessary for the reproduction of 90 percent of flowering plants, and a third of food crops eaten by humans.
“This project is the result of serendipity,” senior author Eijiro Miyako, who worked with postdoctoral fellow and first author Svetlana Chechetka. “We were surprised that after 8 years, the ionic gel didn’t degrade and was still so viscous. Conventional gels are mainly made of water and can’t be used for a long time, so we decided to use this material for research.”
“The findings, which will have applications for agriculture and robotics, among others, could lead to the development of artificial pollinators and help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations,” Miyako says. “We believe that robotic pollinators could be trained to learn pollination paths using global positioning systems and artificial intelligence.”