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Infections, climate change, loss of flowers and the use of insecticides have all been blamed for the worrying decline in bee numbers worldwide. But experts now believe the main cause is the varroa parasite and are seeking ways of helping the honeybee fight back.
The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) is one of the UK’s premier ‘bee laboratories’. It is conducting a three-year research project funded by honey-maker Rowse which aims to make bees resistant to the varroa mite by breeding ‘hygienic’ Dark European honey bees – a bee indigenous to Britain.
Instead of employing standard tests of bees’ hygienic behaviour and then using a needle to kill infected larvae, the LASI team chose liquid nitrogen as a treatment method. This is less time-consuming and easier to control. It is also simpler to measure the effect in a systematic way.
LASI uses BOC liquid nitrogen to freeze-kill infected larvae in sections of combs which are then warmed and reinserted into the hive. If the process removes 80 per cent of the dead pupae, the colony is considered hygienic and its queens can be used to help other hives survive. If LASI can engineer hygienic hives, the problem of disappearing bees could potentially be solved.
The BOC solution
Accessing liquid nitrogen was no problem for LASI because BOC, a member of The Linde Group, is the university’s long-term supplier of liquefied gases.
But LASI also wanted to involve local beekeepers. “It occurred to us that as part of our outreach activities, beekeepers would have an interest in learning about the technology in workshops,” said research scientist Norman Carreck. “Safe handling and storage of liquid nitrogen is an important part of it and we were delighted that BOC’s Paul Charles could spend his Saturday giving a talk that was extremely helpful.”
Paul, who is a BOC Cryospeed and OnStream Specialist, volunteered to run a workshop in his own time. He was keen that BOC did all it could in the fight to save the honeybee, which pollinates around £165m worth of crops in the UK annually.
Advertised online by LASI, the course was hugely oversubscribed but eventually 25 beekeepers from across the UK attended each day of the training, which ran over two days in May.
Paul put together a pack of details and safety documents usually given to new BOC customers taking liquid nitrogen. He explained the dangers and showed the beekeepers how to use the product safely, where to store it and how to obtain it.
The business benefits
BOC Cryospeed is more than just a provider of liquid gases. As a responsible supplier with a duty of care, its staff also advise customers on the best and safest ways of handling the products they receive.
“I am sure some of the beekeepers will obtain liquid nitrogen from other sources than BOC but it was more important for us that they do so with all the facts,” said Paul. “Cryogenic liquids can be hazardous if not used correctly.”
“At -96°C, liquid nitrogen can give you frostbite. As a gas it’s also an asphyxiant, which needs to be stored in a room that’s fully ventilated, not under the stairs.”
By giving beekeepers a better understanding of the liquid nitrogen technique for encouraging healthy bees, BOC is playing a key role in breeding honeybees for greater disease resistance.
“It’s great to be able to contribute, even in a small way, to help our honey bees survive,” said Paul.
“The question of how to handle and store liquid nitrogen safely was key to the workshops BOC ran for us. Using liquid nitrogen is easy for us to do as a university, but not so easy for individual beekeepers. BOC showed that beekeepers could get together and use liquid nitrogen safely.”
- Expert BOC training ensures safe use of liquid nitrogen
- The solution improves the health and quality of bees, helps farmers, beekeepers and the environment
- Liquid nitrogen offers better control and data measurement than conventional methods
- Supplies of liquid nitrogen are readily available
- Liquid nitrogen can delivered to beekeepers across the UK even in remote locations.