Raina Singhvi Jain is allergic to honey bees. Once, a sting in his leg put him out of work for weeks.
But that hasn’t deterred the 20-year-old social entrepreneur from her mission to save these important pollinators, which have suffered decades of population decline.
About 75% of the world’s crops depend at least in part on pollinators such as honeybees. Their collapse can have a huge impact on our entire ecosystem. “Bees are the reason we’re all here today,” says Jain. “They are the basic basis of our agricultural system, our plants. They are the reason we eat.”
Jain, the daughter of Indian immigrants in Connecticut, says her parents taught her to appreciate life, no matter how small. If there were ants in the house, they would tell him to go outside and live.
So when Jain visited an apiary in 2018 and saw piles of dead bees, he felt an innate urge to find out what was going on. What he discovered surprised him.
“Honey bee declines are the result of the three Ps: parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition,” says Samuel Ramsey, professor of entomology at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.
According to Ramsey, the biggest contributor of the three Ps by far is parasites, and specifically a type of mite called Varroa destructor. It was first discovered in the United States in 1987 and can now be found in nearly every hive across the country.
Ramsey observed in his study that mites feed on the liver of honeybees, which weakens their immune system and ability to store nutrients, making them more susceptible to other Ps. These parasites can also spread deadly viruses, disrupt flight and eventually cause the collapse of an entire colony.
Encouraged by his high school science teacher, Jain began working on a solution to get rid of the Varroa mite during his junior year. After much trial and error, he came up with HiveGuard, a 3D printed hive entrance coated with a non-toxic, plant-based pesticide called thymol.
“Thymol is rubbed onto the bee’s body as the bees pass through the entryway, where the concentration eventually kills the varroa mites, but leaves the honey bee unharmed,” says Jain.
About 2,000 beekeepers are beta testing the device as of March 2021, and Jain plans to make an official release later this year. The data he has collected so far shows a 70% reduction in varroa mite infestations three weeks after installation, and no side effects have been reported.
From scientific experiments to saving bees
– Source: CNN
Thymol and other naturally occurring miticides such as oxalic acid, formic acid, and hops are used in current treatments in the form of strips or pots that are inserted into the hive. Ramsey says there are also synthetic aids that are more effective but can be more damaging to the environment. He credits Jain’s ingenuity in creating a device that maximizes the effect on mites while protecting bees and the environment from side effects.
Honeybees are one of the most efficient pollinators on the planet. Their contribution is essential to more than 130 types of fruits, vegetables and nuts, including almonds, cranberries, pumpkins and avocados. So the next time you take a bite of an apple or a sip of coffee, it’s because of the bees, says Jain.
But every year, between 33% and 51% of honey bees in America die, according to Ramsey.
The USDA estimates that honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year in the United States alone. Many of these products are pollinated by managed beekeeping services that are trucked across the country. As bee populations become more expensive to protect, Ramsey says, these services have become more expensive, with a cascading effect on consumer prices.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warns that if honey bee numbers continue to decline, the worst outcome is a serious threat to both food quality and safety.
HiveGuard is just one of the ways Jain is using his entrepreneurial mindset to support honey bees. In 2020, she founded Queen Bee, a supplement company that sells health drinks that incorporate bee products such as honey and royal jelly. For every bottle sold, one pollinator tree is planted through Trees for the Future, a non-profit organization that works with farming families in sub-Saharan Africa.
“My biggest hope for the environment is to bring it back into balance and in harmony with nature,” Jain said.
He believes it’s possible, but it takes a no-nonsense mindset to do it. “Humans have a lot to learn from honey bees themselves as a social structure,” he adds.
“The way they were able to cooperate, the way they were able to delegate and how they sacrificed themselves for the betterment of the colony.”