The Bee Nutrition Challenge: An Innovation Award

Making a difference can start with one bold idea. That’s why the Honey Bee Health Coalition launched the Bee Nutrition Challenge. This effort, launched in 2017, sought creative, practical solutions to accelerate and pioneer the field of honey bee nutrition. Honey bees face serious challenges, partly because they often lack access to a varied and nutritious diet.

Thanks to researchers, we have learned a lot about the nutrients bees need in order to thrive. However, there is a lot we still do not understand about the best diets to keep bees happy and healthy.

The Bee Nutrition Challenge sought to address these challenges by seeking out innovative ideas to improve honey bee and pollinator nutrition. Following a months-long competition, the Coalition identified six finalists out of 24 entries to present their ideas to a panel of judges at the 2018 American Bee Research Conference in a “Shark Tank”-style showdown. The judges then selected four finalists to receive a total of $40,000 in prize funds and full access to subject matter experts and others from the Coalition’s member organizations — including mentoring and advice.

The following teams were awarded money to complete their research over the course of 2018. They will be back to report progress and findings at the 2019 American Bee Research Conference.

  • $15,000 for Miguel Corona, Steven Cook, and Jay Evans, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Bee Research Lab, Development and Testing of Optimal Seasonal Nutritional Supplements For Honey Bees
  • $10,000 for Waled Suliman and Brandon Hopkins, Washington State University, A Novel Feed Additive for Protecting Bees and Confronting Colony Collapse Disorder
  • $7,500 for Washington State University to research fungal extracts for honey bee health
  • $7,500 for Jaclyn Nichols, Patrick Heritier-Robbins, Ruchi Banerjee, and Ollie Peterson, Georgia Institute of Technology, Bee Ultra Sound

Meet the Bee Nutrition Challenge Winners 

Field testing a seasonal bee diet of amino and fatty acids
A team of USDA researchers has developed a schedule of nutritional supplements that give bees access to a wide variety of nutrients in the correct amounts and optimal ratios. Seasonal changes in honey bee nutritional requirements require precisely balanced amino-acid ratios while providing the necessary quantity of both essential and non-essential amino acids. Fatty acids are another critical component, providing an important source of energy reserves, membrane structure, and protection from free radicals. Dr. Manuel Corona’s work with optimal amino acid supplements combined with Dr. Steven Cook’s studies of optimal fatty acid supplementation has shown significant positive outcomes through separate cage studies that measure key honey bee nutritional markers. The team is ready to combine these efforts in a large-scale field test through a variety of seasons.

Bee detox from pesticides with the help of micro-particles
The Quaminus team at Washington State University has been working on a disruptive technology to revolutionize the bee nutrition industry by adding protection value to modern nutritional supplements. Studies show that pesticide exposure is a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder; there is currently no treatment on the market to help bees that ingest toxic molecules from their agriculture neighbors. This team proposes the use of carbon micro-particles (CMPs) that can be easily carried and swallowed by bees, are not systemically absorbed, and pass through the digestive tract and out the body without being broken down. The CMPs carry the pesticide toxins with them, resulting in fewer bees dying due to exposure to and accumulation of pesticides. The material is scalable, easy for beekeepers to apply, non-toxic for both keepers and bees, and requires low quantities per hive, per season.

Can mushrooms save the honey bees?
This project proposes the use of fungal extracts for honey bee health. The approach is meant to be simple and scalable, and involves mixing fungal extracts such as Ganoderma resinaceum, Ganoderma lucidum, and Fomes fomentarious, into sugar water used by commercial beekeepers to supplement foraged flower nectar. The fungal extracts reduce viruses implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), extends bee lifespan, and upregulates critical mechanisms of detoxification. The fungi also parasitize Varroa mites, reducing them as a threat while remaining mostly harmless to adult bees and brood. The use of fungal extracts is proposed as a viable solution for both commercial and backyard beekeepers. Washington State University is researching the extracts.

A look inside the hive with ultrasound
The “Let’s Bee Honest” team at Georgia Tech has been working on a novel way to analyze hive health with ultrasound technology. They have designed a frame with two foundations instead of one, which would allow an ultrasound transducer to scan each side of the frame from within the cavity between. Machine-learning algorithms move the transducer through and between frames, and eventually between hives. Quantitative data allows beekeepers to quickly analyze a single hive’s health, modeling population levels along with nectar and pollen intake and consumption. Keepers will be able to compare the health of different hives, exploring the impact of treatments on hive health. Ultimately, the team hopes to create an affordable hive monitoring system that allows for health tracking across thousands of hives, a task virtually impossible today.