Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?

The New York Times / Opinion By Paul Stamets December 28, 2108

We might be able to save honeybees from viruses transmitted by invasive parasites without chemical treatment.

Credit: Lilli Carré

Credit: Lilli Carré

Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country. These parasites have invaded and decimated wild and domestic bee colonies. Along with other dangers facing bees, like pesticides and the loss of forage lands, the viruses these mites carry threaten the bees we rely on to pollinate many of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat.

This mite, Varroa destructor, injects a slew of viruses into bees, including one that causes shriveled wings, a primary factor in widespread colony collapse. Worse, these parasites have rapidly developed resistance to synthetic pesticides.

Beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their colonies between April 2017 and April 2018. But we might be able to save honeybees at least from this parasitic scourge without chemical intervention. I along with scientists at Washington State University and the United States Department of Agriculture recently published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature, a study that could inspire a paradigm shift in protecting bees.

Our research shows that extracts from the living mycelial tissue of common wood conk mushrooms known to have antiviral properties significantly reduced these viruses in honeybee colonies, in one field test by 45,000 times, compared to control colonies. In the field tests, we used extracts from two species of wood conks, the red reishi and the amadou. The famous “Iceman” found in a glacier in 1991 in the Alps carried amadouin a pouch 5,300 years ago. The red reishi has long been used as an immune-boosting tonic in Asia.

Our hypothesis — and that's all it is, we don't understand the mechanism behind the results — is that extracts of wood conk mushrooms strengthen immunity to viruses. More study is needed. At present, there have been no substances proved to reduce viruses in bees.

In the field study, a small amount of one of these mycelial extracts was added to the sugar water commonly fed to honeybees by beekeepers; wild bees could benefit too. I’m excited by the prospect of this research. I am a mycologist by trade — a mushroom expert — and I hope to create, with some colleagues, a nonprofit organization that could make available this mushroom extract and a bee feeder, similar to a hummingbird feeder, so that all of us can help save bees from our own backyards.

Our team is designing a bee feeder that we hope makes it possible to track bee visits and their pollen loads. Ideally, citizen scientists will upload their data to a portal to monitor progress. I estimate that millions of these feeders are needed to reverse the decline in bee populations.

Nature can repair itself with a little help from mycologists. Fungi outnumber plants by about 6 to 1; there are two million to four million fungal species, though only about 140,000 have been named so far. Our research underlines the need to save biodiversity for the discoveries to come.

These mycelial extracts might aid other species like pigs, birds and other animals. But we need more animal clinical studies to prove that this will work on a wider scale.

Mycology is an underfunded, understudied field with astonishing potential to save lives: ours and the bees.

Paul Stamets, a mycologist and owner of a gourmet mushroom company, is the author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/opinion/bees-threats-crop-loss-mushrooms.html

Fantastic Fungi: The Spirit of Good - Mushroom Mycelium

Filmmakers set up cameras in this forest and captured the most amazing scene. This is an excerpt from the 3D documentary feature about Paul Stamets, renowned mycologist, author and visionary, on how mushrooms can save the world.  A Film by Louie Schwartzberg.

Mushrooms as Medicine with Paul Stamets

YouTube  Published October 15, 2015 

Leading mycologist Paul Stamets (full bio) shares his work exploring the diverse role medicinal mushrooms may have in activating our immune systems and helping treat cancer, to new data supporting the role of fungi in biosecurity and the health of the bees that pollinate our planet. (At approx. 18:30 Stamets addresses honey bees and mushrooms.)

Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

 NPR   By Ken Christensen   October 9, 2015

A honeybee is seen on the countertop of entomologist Steve Sheppard's lab at Washington State University. Sheppard is studying whether he can boost honeybees' immunity using liquid extracted from wood-rotting mushrooms. Ken Christensen/Courtesy of EarthFix/KCTSHoneybees need a healthy diet of pollen, nectar and water. But at a bee laboratory in eastern Washington state, Steve Sheppard fills their feeding tubes with murky brown liquid from the forest.

His bees are getting a healthy dose of mushroom juice.

"If this does what we hope, it will be truly revolutionary," says Sheppard, who heads the Department of Entomology at Washington State University. "Beekeepers are running out of options."

Commercial honeybees, which pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States annually, have teetered on the brink of collapse for nearly a decade. A third of all bee colonies have died each year since 2006, on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientists say the mysterious phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, may be the result of at least 60 environmental factors that combine to cripple honeybees — including pesticides, disease, malnutrition, loss of habitat and climate change.

Beekeepers, however, say the honeybee's single greatest threat is a virus-carrying parasite called the varroa mite.

Sheppard has spent decades breeding western honeybees to better tolerate the mite and its viruses. But he hasn't had much success, he says.

Varroa mites have devastated U.S. beehives since the late 1980s, when they arrived here from Asia. In 1996, half of the colonies east of the Mississippi River died due to mite infestations.

 

The reddish-brown pests, which are no bigger than the head of a pin, invade colonies and multiply rapidly. They hide among bee larvae developing in the honeycomb, feed on infant bee blood and lay several eggs each.


"It would be like having something the size of a pancake feeding on you," Sheppard says.

Honeybees that emerge from the infected hives typically carry illnesses, like a virus that results in deformed wings that prevent bees from flying.

If beekeepers don't intervene, the varroa mite can destroy a colony in less than two years. Meanwhile, the pest reproduces so rapidly, it builds resistance to chemical pesticides more quickly than solutions can be invented, Sheppard says.

That's why he decided to try an unconventional approach last year, after local mushroom expert Paul Stamets called him with an idea to help arm the honeybee in its fight against the mite.

"We've gone to the moon, we've gone to Mars, but we don't know the way of the bee?" says Stamets, who owns the medicinal mushroom company Fungi Perfecti near Olympia, Wash.

The self-taught mycologist says he noticed a relationship between honeybees and mushrooms when he observed bees sipping on sugar-rich fungal roots growing in his backyard.

"I looked down, and they were sucking on my mycelium," he says.

Now he thinks he knows why.

In recent years, his research has shown that rare fungi found in the old-growth forests of western Washington can help fight other viruses and diseases, including tuberculosis, smallpox and bird flu. He wondered if the honeybee would see similar health benefits from wood-rotting mushrooms.

"Bees have immune systems, just like we do," he says. "These mushrooms are like miniature pharmaceutical factories."

Stamets and Sheppard are feeding liquid extracts of those forest mushrooms to mite-infected honeybees. Initial findings suggest that five species of the wood-rotting fungi can reduce the honeybees' viruses and increase their lifespans.

In addition, the scientists are trying to fight honeybee viruses by taking aim at the varroa mite itself. Insect-killing fungi have been used as an alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides for years, and previous studies show that one type of entomopathogenic fungus can weaken varroa mites in beehives.

Paul Stamets cultures mycelium at his laboratory near Olympia, Wash. Ken Christensen/Courtesy of EarthFix/KCTS 9Paul Stamets thinks his version of the fungus will be more effective. So far, the results of the experiments in Sheppard's lab look promising.

"The product seems to be killing mites without harming bees," Sheppard says.

This fall, the scientists plan to expand both experiments by partnering with commercial beekeepers like Eric Olson, who runs the largest commercial beekeeping operation in Washington.

Olson says two-thirds of his beehives died five years ago because of a varroa mite infestation. After several years successfully controlling the pest, he arrived this year in California for almond pollination season and nearly half of his bees had died during the winter.

He spent $770,000 to buy replacement hives, he says.

"I was lucky that I had the cash and the connections to recover from that," he says.

Olson recently donated about $50,000 to Sheppard's department to help find a solution to the mite. Looking at the bees in one of his hives, he says, "I'm really concerned about whether these little girls will survive."

Read at: http://goo.gl/mBdARW

 Ken Christensen is an associate video producer at KCTS9 in Seattle, Wash., as part of EarthFix, a public media collaboration reporting on the environment. This story first appeared on the EarthFix site.

 

 

Could The Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

Published on Aug 18, 2015

Paul Stamets and Steve Sheppard, two scientists in Washington state, team up to save the honeybee from colony collapse disorder. They’re investigating an unconventional remedy: the mushroom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_lqIUlON1s