Two types of mushrooms are helping bees fight a major virus contributing to colony collapse disorder.
A recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports, a specific type of mushroom extract can help honey bees fight off a devastating virus that is suspected of contributing to massive bee die-offs in recent years.
Bees are dying, in massive numbers. Termed colony collapse disorder, a significant cause of the die-offs is a parasite named Varroa destructor. A tiny 2mm eight legged mite that invades honeybee hives around the world, latching onto the bees and feeding on their bodies, a process which transmits a devastating RNA virus.
This new study was conducted by researchers at Washington State University, with help from the USDA and a Washington based business called Fungi Perfecti.
The Magic of Mushrooms
The researchers found that bee colonies that were given mycelium extract from amadou and reishi fungi saw a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus and a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus.
One of the paper’s authors, WSU entomology professor Steve Sheppard, says that he hopes this finding will make this deadly virus a thing of the past.
“Our greatest hope is that these extracts have such an impact on viruses that they may help varroa mites become an annoyance for bees, rather than causing huge devastation. We’re excited to see where this research leads us. Time is running out for bee populations and the safety and security of the world’s food supply hinges on our ability to find means to improve pollinator health. One of the major ways varroa mites hurt bees is by spreading and amplifying viruses. Mites really put stress on the bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to viruses that shorten worker bee lifespans,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard’s lab is working with a company called Fungi Perfecti, which is owned by the famous mushroom researcher Paul Stamets, who is also a co-author of the study.
Sheppard explains, “Paul previously worked on a project that demonstrated the antiviral properties of mycelial extracts on human cells. He read about viruses hurting bees and called us to explore the use of the extracts on honey bees. After two years, we demonstrated that those anti-viral properties extend to honey bees.”
Unfortunately, the mycelium extract isn’t currently available in large quantities for mass distribution, but Stamets says that they are in the process of increasing their production volume.
“We are ramping up production of the extracts as rapidly as is feasible, given the hurdles we must overcome to deploy this on a wide scale,” Stamets said.
The researchers aren’t entirely sure how the extract works, but they suspect that it either boosts the immune system or somehow fights the viruses. Sheppard explains:
“We aren’t sure if the mycelium is boosting the bees’ immune system or actually fighting the viruses. We’re working to figure that out, along with testing larger groups of colonies to develop best management practices and determine how much extract should be used and when to have the best impact,”