Zhejiang University: Small testing strips aid in bee protection

Bees are a common social insect. Not only do they produce honey and beeswax, but they also contribute to the world’s agricultural production.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) points out that more than 80 percent of the world’s crop varieties rely to some extent on bee pollination to improve their yield and quality. Were it not for bees and other pollinators, agricultural products, such as coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes and cocoa, would be virtually fruitless.

Evidence reveals that the population of bees is currently on the decline all over the world. One of the major threats to the expeditious decrease in the bee population is the use of pesticides.

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used type of insecticides in the world. They are highly systemic and therefore toxic to bees. Even at low doses, they may pose serious health hazards to bees: reducing their capacity for learning and memory and undermining their immune function.

Thus, such developed regions as the European Union have repeatedly tightened restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids in order to reduce the threat to bees as of 2013.

In order to track and detect insecticide residues, there is an urgent need of tools capable of achieving rapid on-site detection to monitor neonicotinoid residue levels in nectar crops and the entire hive environment. The research team led by Prof. GUO Yirong at the Zhejiang University Institute of Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology has long been committed to researching into the methods of detecting pesticide residues rapidly. In recent years, they have developed a lateral flow chromatographic device based on the antigen-antibody immuno-reaction (immunoassay strips), which can be used to screen out six types of neonicotinoids on site. Since 2017, the research team has entered into partnership with the Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) at Wageningen University & Research. The immunoassay strip can be used for bee protection by detecting neoincotinoid residues in various samples, such as foraging plants, bees, pollen, water and honey.

Compared with traditional detection methods, this lateral flow device is marked by its operability, sensitivity, simplicity and rapidity. It is also a useful complement to the cholinesterase inhibition method, a widely-used rapid pesticide residue detection method at present by mitigate its limitations—screening organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides at the same time. At present, this pesticide residue testing strip has been evaluated by the WFSR. It is currently being promoted by Waterdrinker, a larger flower company in the Netherlands and being applied to the EU-funded B-GOOD (Giving Beekeeping Guidance by Computational-assisted Decision-making) project.

This rapid pesticide residue detection technology can be assembled into multiple series of testing strips and applied to fruits, tea and other agricultural products. Cooperation with the Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in 2016 has contributed to the extensive application of the rapid detection strip in monitoring water-soluble pesticide residues in the national tea industry system. With 90% accuracy rate, this type of rapid detection strip can effectively control the application of neoincotinoids in agricultural production, which is of tremendous significance to improving the agricultural ecological environment, protecting public health and promoting the sustainable development of agriculture.

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