A key ingredient found in beer can save the declining population of honeybees, scientists say.

Lately, the population of honeybees has been disappearing due to what scientists call the "colony collapse disorder." This is a phenomenon where the colony itself mysteriously dies off, and it continues on to claim more and more hives. Scientists say that one of the contributing factors to the phenomenon is the existence of the honeybees' most ruthless killers--the varroa destructor.

Beekeepers have been searching for an alternative which can help honeybees fight these parasites. They attack honeybees by attaching themselves to honeybees and sucking the insects' hemolymph - a fluid equivalent to blood in most invertebrates. This causes a virus called deformed wing virus to spread into the colony. These parasites can only reproduce on honeycombs.

According to the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, the number of managed beehives in the United States has gone from six million to 2.5 million.

Scientists are worried that with the loss of bees, the planet will lose the most able pollinating insects as well. Bees are vital in food production and maintenance of crops. When bees die off, commercial bees that remain are forced to travel farther and risk exposure to harmful pesticides, chemicals, and other irritants, scientists say.

One of the solutions that scientists developed is the use of hop (Humulus lupulus L.) beta acids (HBA) on honeycombs.

In a study published in the journal Springer Open Choice in 2012, researchers tested droplets of HBA on a honeycomb with honeybees and varroa destructors. They found that honeybees were strong enough to survive, while the parasites experienced 100 percent mortality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also approved the use of HBA around honeycombs.

Another team of researchers from the University of Southampton and University of Reading recently found that the death of honeybees is also caused by diesel fumes.

According to the research published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology, the process is a domino effect: diesel fumes contain nitrous oxide that can chemically alter flowers' common compounds.

Honeybees use their sense of smell to find flowers they can pollinate, and because some of the flowers' scent has been chemically altered, honeybees have a hard time finding these flowers. In the end, the honeybees starve.

The study said that emissions of diesel fumes are only part of the bigger picture. Other factors that cause the death of bees are habitat loss, diseases, insecticides, environmental pollution and poor nutrition.

"Whilst it is unlikely that these emissions by themselves could be affecting bee populations, [when] combined with the other stresses, it could be the tipping point," said Guy Poppy, co-author of the study.

Researchers hope that with the assurance that HBA can be effective in repelling varroa destructors, more beehives can be saved.

Photo: Karunakar Rayker | Flickr

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