A man’s “waking dream” is now the subject of research at the Washington State University as a possible means to save the world’s bees. It all began years ago when he observed the bees sipping on his mushrooms’ mycelium.
Saving the world’s bees is a significant topic of conversation, as the pollinators continue to suffer from various threats. Efforts have been made to help the bee population survive and thrive once more, but it has not been easy as not all of the efforts to save the bees have been greatly successful.
In 1984, Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti noticed a “convoy of bees” traveling from his mushrooms to their beehives. The bees had to move wood chips to have access to the mushrooms, and Stamets noticed that they were sipping the droplets oozing from the mycelium, the fibers of fungus that look like cobwebs.
A few decades later, Stamets and a friend were discussing the problem of bee colony collapse that has been threatening the world’s bee populations. Problems such as viruses, parasites, chemicals, and a lack of foraging areas were discussed.
As he was waking up one morning, Stamets connected the dots of what he had witnessed decades ago, and the bee problems he was discussing with his friend. In a “waking dream,” Stamets figured that the bees were after the mushrooms’ mycelium, not just because of the sugar, but also because of its antiviral properties.
Varroa Mites In Bee Colonies
It was in the late 1980’s when Varroa mites began affecting bee colonies across the United States. Such parasites transmit viruses to the colony, leading it to an eventual collapse. Through the years, more and more bee colonies continue to suffer from mite infestation, and the colonies grew more susceptible to the more evolved and virulent viruses. So far, the best bet to protect the colony is to limit the mite population to a manageable size.
After going to, and being rejected, by several researchers for sounding “crazy,” Stamets’ novel idea was finally heard by Washington State University (WSU) researcher Steve Sheppard, who himself also has many novel ideas to save the bees.
To test Stamets’ theory, the collaborative research team separated mite-exposed bees into two groups: one they fed mycelium extract and the other they did not. They also tested the extract on a small colony of working bees near WSU.
Virus Reduction To Almost Zero
Amazingly, they found that the mycelium extract reduced some virus strains to almost nothing. Specifically, the extracts from the amadou and reishi fungi resulted in a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus and a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus compared to the control colonies.
However, researchers are still unsure how the extract works; whether it boosts the bees immune system, makes them resistant to the virus, or whether the extract targets the virus itself. So far, the next step for the team is to conduct further research to try to understand what’s causing the virus reduction, and to see how it could be applied as a practical solution.
“I am excited about new discoveries and opportunities. For me, the best of science is when it is used for practical solutions. Our team is honored to work with WSU researchers and look forward to continuing collaboration,” said Stamets.
The team published the results of their study in the journal Scientific Reports.