Mites, Monsanto Cause Colony Collapse Disorder; Is Fungi A Solution?
Something has killed honey bees in droves for the past 20 years leading to what’s known as colony collapse disorder. For a while, the culprit remained ambiguous, but now scientists are discovering that a number of anthropogenic factors, including Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate, pesticides, and parasites may be to blame. Though these may seem like disparate problems requiring complicated solutions, there is one man who believes he has an answer that could save the bees—that man is Paul Stamets, and his answer is fungi.
Over the past several years, Stamets has become something of a rockstar in the field of mycology—the study of fungi—for his radical and pioneering work discovering the endless applications and influences mushrooms have on our world.
Since he began researching fungi in the 1970s, Stamets has received 12 patents, written six books, and been recognized by a multitude of esteemed institutions. There’s even a character on Star Trek: Discovery named after him—Lt. Cmdr. Paul Stamets.
Part of Stamets’ appeal stems from his Deadhead-turned-scientist persona that views fungi from a spiritual perspective, not just a materialist lens. Stamets admits his early use of Psilocybe cubensis, also known as “magic” mushrooms, became the catalyst for his fascination, leading to a lifelong journey studying the myriad mycelia that populate the planet.
Stamets’ discoveries have changed lives and now he hopes to parlay his mushroom knowledge into a comprehensive plan to save the bees, and in the process, maybe save humanity as well.
Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse disorder is the phenomenon in which there is a mass exodus of worker bees from the hive, typically dying or fleeing from infection. These bees leave their queen behind with a few nurse bees to care for her, though their chances for survival drop significantly, especially as winter draws near. Scientists have identified several factors related to colony collapse, most of which stem from pathogens and chemicals that degrade bees’ immune systems.
And while we all know bees produce honey and wax, many don’t realize just how crucial they are to our survival as a species.
Bees are pollinators, and while this may seem obvious, many are unaware of just how essential bee pollination is to agriculture. When a bee collects nectar from a plant it picks up pollen and transmits it to other plants, allowing them to bear fruit. And a single bee can pollinate up to 1000 flowers a day.
This process is necessary for our agricultural industry, as about 35 percent of our food is directly dependent on bee pollination, while the other 65 percent is indirectly dependent. If bee pollination suddenly ceased, it’s estimated around $16 billion worth of crops would be affected in the United States alone.
And over the past few decades, beekeepers and entomologists have noticed massive drop-offs in bee populations globally. In a matter of a single year, states like Oklahoma lost as much as 85 percent of beehives due to colony collapse. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, a third of all bee colonies have died each year since 2006. So, what exactly is causing this apiological pandemic?
Colony Collapse Disorder Causes
While there isn’t one answer, there are a number of factors contributing to the current bee-reavement of our buzzing friends. One of the most common issues is a parasite called the Varroa mite. Also known as the Varroa destructor, this external parasite is known to invade and attack Apis mellifera and Apis cerana—the western and eastern honey bee.
These nasty parasites look like a small reddish-brown or white button latched to a honey bee’s back. Spawning in 10-day cycles, the mites lay eggs on larvae, often infecting bees before they finish pupation. When this happens, new worker bees are compromised before they hatch, entering the world with viruses or genetic defects, such as wing deformities. Once exposed to these mites, a hive typically collapses after only a seven percent infestation.
“The Varroa destructor mites are something all beekeepers will eventually face,” Craig Patterson, Gaia employee and in-house beekeeper said. “Currently, I’m experimenting with Russian genetics, which is expected to be resilient to the parasite and highly-tolerable to our cold climate in Colorado.”
Every year Patterson said he has to take measures to fend off Varroa, and sometimes it’s just a matter of the bee’s genetic type. But this has become less effective as the mites adapt.
“The two main genetic types of honey bees – Italian and Carniolan — have been used for years, but unfortunately they’re becoming less resilient,” Patterson said. “And you can use non-natural treatments, but they weaken the bees and the hive, and you usually have to do it right before winter, which doesn’t really set them up for success, especially for the hard months in a cold climate like Colorado.”
And as much as they’d prefer not to, using those potent chemical sprays has been the last line of defense most beekeepers have to fight the mite. That was until Stamets claimed he found the fungal solution.
Exposing honeybees to a type of fungal spore known as Metarhizium anisopliae has proven itself promising in the war on Varroa. Metarhizium is a strain of fungi known as an entomopathogen, or parasitoid, meaning it’s parasitic to parasites themselves. Some may be familiar with similar types of parasitic fungi like Ophiocordyceps, which infects insects — ants particularly — turning them into mind-controlled zombies, before killing them and growing a spore from their head to infect others. Nature can be ruthless…
Though bees are susceptible to the effects of Metarhizium, they groom themselves as methodically as cats, wiping away the fungal spores. Stamets is working in conjunction with beekeepers at Washington State University, one of the foremost institutes in apiology, to create Metarhizium-based fungal products to fight Varroa mites. He says a product should be available to beekeepers sometime this year.
Colony Collapse Disorder from Pesticides
There have been a number of studies testing whether Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide RoundUp, may be playing a role in colony collapse disorder, and it was recently determined that it appears so.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas found bees exposed to glyphosate had a significant decrease in four of eight types of healthy bacteria found in their gut microbiome, notably one called Snodgrasella alvi.
Just like we humans have become concerned with the diversity of our gut microbiota, the health of bees’ microbiome is essential to their livelihood. Snodgrassella alvi is crucial to bees’ digestive process as well as their ability to fight off pathogens.
After observing this, researchers exposed bees to typical pathogens they would face in the field, noticing those exposed to glyphosate died at a significantly higher rate. Of course, Bayer/Monsanto refuted the validity of the experiment saying the study didn’t sufficiently mimic field conditions. But that’s unsurprising considering the company rejected negative results from a self-sponsored study in which scientists tested the effect of pesticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) on colony collapse disorder – a year later a larger study affirmed those results.
Just like it sounds, neonics are insecticides resembling nicotine that have been eyed as a potential culprit that’s causing colony collapse. According to the aforementioned study, it turns out the local environment has a lot to do with the way neonics affect bee colonies. In areas of great forage diversity – where there are more wildflowers and types of pollen available – the neonics had no immediate negative effect on the colony. However, in areas where there was primarily commercial farming and less variety of wildflowers, bees were significantly affected, particularly when it came to reproduction.
The study’s authors concluded that in areas where bees are highly dependent on pesticide-treated crops and weakened by disease, they were more susceptible to the negative effects of neonics. But during winter, bees in both areas were more susceptible to colony collapse due to the effects of neonics. The study’s author called it a “cause for concern.”
And Patterson said he’s aware of this too, especially with bees pollinating monoculture crops, like RoundUp-ready corn.
“I haven’t necessarily had direct experience, but I know one of my home hives got into something chemical-based,” he said. ” I saw a lot of die-off in weird, sporadic ways; bees flopping around on the ground, crawling around, acting strange, essentially exhibiting abnormal motor skills. Investigating further, I noticed some of the bees died with their tongues sticking out, which can be related to herbicide or pesticide poisoning.”
The study also found neonic residues dissolved into groundwater and were taken up by wild plants in the area. This was found coming from a test of bees that collected 99 percent of their nectar from wildflowers. In light of the study, EU regulators imposed a partial moratorium on neonics.
So, what’s Stamets’ solution this time?
At his home in Washington, Stamets one day noticed a swarm of honey bees sipping something from mycelia growing in a patch of wood chips near his garden.
“I looked down, and they were sucking on my mycelium,” he said.
Stamets connected the dots, realizing he previously learned Reishi and Amadou mushrooms growing from rotting wood were good for human immune systems in treating certain pathogens, such as tuberculosis, smallpox, and bird flu.
Seeing their attraction to them, he figured they must be good for bees’ immune systems as well. So, he pitched his idea to researchers at Washington State University. They were so excited about the prospect, they pleaded him not to work with anyone else. And for the past few years, Stamets has worked with WSU entomologist Walter S. Sheppard feeding sick bees an extract made from these particular mushroom mycelia.
Their results have shown promise in reducing viruses and increasing the bee lifespan. In their trials, they found that colonies fed these mushrooms extracts saw a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus – a condition caused by Varroa – and a 45,000-fold (yes, you read that correctly) reduction in another genetic issue called Lake Sinai Virus, compared with control colonies.
Stamets and his colleagues hope to have several products available for beekeepers soon to mitigate the massive losses their industry has sustained and hopefully save bee populations around the world. For the sake of the bees and our future livelihood as a species, let’s hope it works.
For more fascinating fungal insight, watch this episode of Inspirations with master mycologist Paul Stamets:
The Actual Truth About Fluoride
Fluoride is added to 70% of America’s drinking water, in what has long been a controversial practice of involuntary mass medication. The CDC lists fluoridation as one of the top 10 most important public health measures of the 20th century. But a group of non-profit organizations is now fighting the EPA on this practice, citing a mountain of evidence that shows little benefit, and massive risks.
Not only has the ingestion of fluoride been linked to a variety of health concerns, but research increasingly shows that it doesn’t even improve our teeth. While applying fluoride directly to the tooth’s enamel can perhaps prevent tooth decay, it has been proven in dozens of peer-reviewed studies that swallowing the substance has no health benefit whatsoever.
So why exactly do we fluoridate our water?
The origin of the practice is downright bizarre: In 1901, dentist Frederick McKay began a 30-year study of what was known as “The Colorado Brown Stain.” Residents of Colorado Springs showed a unique disfiguration of their teeth: brown, mottled pits appeared in this population with alarming consistency. Yet, as McKay would soon discover, there was a beneficial trade-off for this unsightly condition: Those afflicted by the “Brown Stain” showed a complete lack of tooth decay and cavities.
After an analysis of the local water supplies, McKay found an unusually high amount of fluoride, which he credited for both the lack of decay and the “Brown Stain.” Today, the “Brown Stain” is known as dental fluorosis, and mild cases (which only produce white streaks) are present in 58% of adolescents. This mild discoloration has been a known side effect of fluoridation since the beginning, but the benefit of cavity and decay reduction was thought to outweigh the risk.
In the last few decades, however, an abundance of medical research has emerged that shows much more profound potential dangers, leading to an ongoing legal battle to end this practice. Fluoride is essentially toxic to the human body, although in small doses, no acute effects are perceived. While our kidneys are able to filter out 50-60% of the fluoride we consume, the rest is stored in the body and has been observed to build up over time in certain areas.
One organ that is particularly susceptible to fluoride build-up is the pineal gland — the part of our brain responsible for regulating sleep and reproductive hormones. Sometimes known as “the third eye,” this small gland has been linked to metaphysical abilities by many cultures throughout history. Philosopher and scientist René Descartes believed the pineal gland to be the “principal seat of the soul.”
It is estimated that 40% of Americans have significant amounts of fluoride build-up in this gland by age 17. By old age, the pineal gland contains about the same amount of fluoride as a tooth. While the role of the pineal gland in facilitating psychic abilities and increased intuition is still up for debate, the fact that fluoride consumption impacts the gland’s ability to function is absolutely proven.
And that’s not the only part of the brain that suffers: over 30 independent studies have linked fluoride to a reduction in childhood IQ: A 2018 study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that, for every increase of 1 milligram per liter of fluoride in a pregnant women’s urine, their offspring averaged 2.4 points lower IQ scores at age 1-3 years old. This follows a 2017 study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showing in utero fluoride levels associated with lower IQ in 6-12 year-olds.
Animal studies have shown other neurological effects, including impaired memory, reduced ability to learn, and even mild forms of brain damage. With potential health risks like that, you would think that the evidence of fluoride’s benefits must be pretty solid. …..well, think again.
There is no solid proof that drinking fluoride actually improves dental health.
In a 1989 study, data collected by the National Institute of Dental Research found that children who live in areas where the water supplies are fluoridated have tooth decay rates nearly identical to those who live in non-fluoridated areas. While tooth decay has declined in the US since fluoridation was introduced, countries which do not add fluoride to their water have seen the same rate of decline in tooth decay. This data from the World Health Organization implies that factors other than fluoridated water are contributing to the overall improvement of dental health worldwide.
In fact, there has never been a controlled, randomized trial to demonstrate the effectiveness or safety of fluoridation, despite over 60 years of consumption in public water supplies. A 2009 study, funded by the NIH, was surprisingly the first to look at individual exposure to fluoride (as opposed to simply living in a fluoridated community). They found no correlation whatsoever between fluoride ingestion and tooth decay.
Considering the wealth of scientific evidence now available, the involuntary mass consumption of fluoride seems indefensible. Yet the EPA has dismissed citizen petitions to remove the substance and is now trying to dismiss a lawsuit that would ban the use of fluoride under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Carbon filtration devices, like those made by Pur or Brita, will not remove fluoride from water. Even expensive reverse-osmosis filters can not remove 100% of the substance, although they can be up to 90% effective. Even if you have your own well or collect rainwater to drink, fluoride is still practically impossible to avoid. Food and drink is often made with fluoridated water. And of course, no explicit labeling is required.
When most people hear the term fluoride, they think of happy, white, shiny teeth. But if more Americans looked at the actual truth about this practice, perhaps the involuntary medication could end.