Apple and pear trees are often at risk for fire blight, but unfortunately by the time a tree shows signs of disease it’s too late and surrounding arbors have already been infected. Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology have found a way to detect the early onset of fire blight with the help of bees. After bees visit the blossoms on fruit trees, they then return to the hive, bringing the fire blight bacteria with them. Scientists can then test the hive for fire blight DNA, catching the disease before it ravages entire orchards.
Fire blight is a bacterium known to infect and destroy whole orchards in just one growing season. Its name is derived from the dry, blackened and cracked fruit, leaves and branches it causes when taking over a tree. The disease is most common in pears, but can also affect apples, loquats, quinces, raspberries and other fruit bearing trees.
Monitoring an orchard for fire blight often comes up as a fruitless endeavor, as the disease usually sets in more quickly than tests can be made across every tree or branch. Rather than employing dozens of researchers to check the trees, the Vienna University of Technology and Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety have turned to employing bees. Together, they have developed a genetic test that is specific to fire blight DNA, allowing the researchers to test pollen collected by bees, rather than each and every tree and branch.
At the hive, the researchers installed small tubes that each bee must crawl through, which collect the bacteria infected pollen on pieces of foil. The foil is then tested easily, rather than spot testing dozens of blossoms- which leaves a great margin for error.
Thanks to the help of bees, researchers may be able to catch fire blight before it ruins an entire crop of fruit- giving new meaning to worker bee.
Via Phys Org