Light therapy could help avoid colony collapse disorder in bees, which some scientists say threatens much of the world's food supply. British scientists are developing a simple, inexpensive infrared light treatment that could reinvigorate ailing colonies. The research also offers hope for people suffering from early stage macular degeneration. Jim Drury reports.
The honey bee's the world's greatest agricultural pollinator. But Colony Collapse Disorder is blamed by some scientists for falling bee numbers, leading to fewer crops. Over-use of pesticides is often cited as a likely cause. University College London ophthalmologists say they have a solution - near infrared light therapy. Professor Glen Jeffery set up four hives, each containing 400 bees. Two groups were exposed to a common pesticide for ten days. One of these was also treated with light. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR GLEN JEFFERY, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON INSTITUTE OF OPHTHALMOLOGY, SAYING: "In the colony that hasn't had the light the animals (bees) are rather grey, they're pasty, and they move around in balls. If you look at the group on the other side that's had the 670 nanometre light as well you find they're moving around in a relatively normal way, they're beating their wings, and we can't tell the difference between those and bees that haven't been poisoned." Jeffery says the group treated with light therapy without being poisoned had a better survival rate than the control group. This suggests preventive treatment before exposure to pesticides could be beneficial. Some scientists say Colony Collapse Disorder risks future human food supplies. Others disagree and say bee numbers are fairly stable. Jeffery has received funding to create an inexpensive commercial device for use in hives. His team is also conducting an intriguing study on a potential future preventive treatment for human macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR GLEN JEFFERY, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON INSTITUTE OF OPHTHALMOLOGY, SAYING: "We actually take a very simple device that's extremely economic and all we ask people to do is actually to put it over one eye for one to two minutes every day. We measure their visual function beforehand and we measure their visual function after we've done it - and there when we've done our test very carefully we find that there is an improvement in vision, particularly in the ability to detect a very small light in the dark. That is where we find an improvement in retinal function." The bee colony study was published this month in peer-reviewed, scientific journal PLOS ONE. Jeffery hopes his team's findings will create a lasting buzz.