Lancaster University: Scientists get busy to revive state’s beekeeping fortunes

UTS researchers Dr Nural Cokcetin and Professor Liz Harry are part of a collaboration that will work to future-proof the vital NSW apiary industry. Already reeling from years of drought and declining revenues, the sector took a major hit in the 2020 bushfires.


Almost 10,000 hives destroyed. Bees lost from 88,000 more, when they were damaged by heat and smoke. Thousands of hectares of key flora wiped out.

There is no doubt the bushfires of 2020 were devastating for the state’s 900 registered beekeepers and the critically important NSW apiary industry.

A $1.9 million research program announced today aims to help the sector rebuild and give it confidence for the long term. A suite of projects will create local jobs, support more queen bees being bred in NSW, open the door to greater medicinal honey opportunities and foster flora regeneration.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall announced the program at the NSW Apiarists Association Conference in Tamworth, and said it was a vote of confidence in the state’s apiary industry.

Our team is very excited to be able to do research with direct benefits to an industry that is so crucial to Australia.

Dr Nural Cokcetin

“To ensure industry can recover as quickly as possible, we’re supporting a number of projects designed to boost confidence in the sector, as well as increase the resilience and sustainability of the industry,” Mr Marshall said.

The package comprises six apiary industry support and research programs, coordinated by Professor Dee Carter at the University of Sydney.

Scientists Dr Nural Cokcetin and Professor Liz Harry, of the UTS ithree Institute, will lead a research project called New honey markets: Honey as a health food to fight gut infections.

“We know that honey has been used as a digestive remedy for centuries, but why is that? Our research seeks to understand the science behind how honey changes microbial populations, metabolite production, immune response and inflammation in the gut,” Dr Cokcetin said.

The research is intended to provide a strong evidence base for marketing honey as a health food with prebiotic properties. Photo by Andy Roberts
The research is intended to provide a strong evidence base for marketing honey as a health food with prebiotic properties. Photo by Andy Roberts

“Our diet affects the balance of our gut, and in turn our gut microbiome affects so much of our health, and an unhealthy gut (due to an imbalance of gut microbes) has been linked to gut diseases, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, allergies, asthma, heart conditions, and mental health issues.”

She said preliminary data from their studies suggest many honey types have prebiotic potential, including those produced in high volumes in NSW such as yellow box and iron bark.

Our research seeks to understand the science behind how honey changes microbial populations, metabolite production, immune response and inflammation in the gut.

Dr Nural Cokcetin

As well, they will be key collaborators on the research project Enhancing forest and bee health for high-value medicinal honey: Healthy forests – healthy bees – active honey, led by Professor Carter.

Dr Cokcetin said: “Our team is very excited to be able to do research with direct benefits to an industry that is so crucial to Australia.”

Professor Carter said the six projects would partner scientists with beekeepers, industry representatives and policy makers to create value-adding opportunities for NSW beekeepers and along the supply chain, secure native floral resources and increase workforce capacity.

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