By: Rachel Benbrook
The Pacific Northwest’s “mushroom man” Paul Stamets partnered with research scientists from Washington State University and USDA to conduct a potentially groundbreaking experiment showing that mushroom extracts can help bees fight off viruses.
The research, published in Scientific Reports, was triggered by Stamets, a mycologist, author, and entrepreneur based in the Puget Sound. He hypothesized that mushrooms with known, anti-viral properties could be helping bees in their day-to-day struggles with viruses, including those introduced by infectious mites. The story of how he came up with the idea is pretty fascinating (hint — he watched what bees were doing around his mushrooms, and then asked why).
The team mixed extracts from polypore fungi known to have anti-viral properties into the sucrose syrup fed to bees in the experiment, and compared the rates of viral infection with a control group of bees fed sugar syrup only.
In both laboratory and field studies, bees who drank syrup with the mushroom extract had significantly lower levels of deformed wing virus (DWV) and Lake Sinai virus (LSV), two infections introduced by Varroa mites that are believed to play a role in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
The impact on honeybee viral load was significant. The bees that drank mushroom-extract spiked honey syrup showed a 79-fold reduction in DWV and a 45,000-fold reduction in LSV, compared to the controls.
The study has important implications. Though viral infections “play a significant role in the global
pattern of declining honey bee health … no approved antiviral materials are currently available for beekeepers.” Plus, domesticated bees can spread viruses to wild pollinators, impacting ecosystems far beyond farm fields.
The hope is that this research will finally provide some tools to battle honeybee viruses. As they put it “the mycelial extracts tested here are orally active and readily consumed by bees, suggesting potential applications for beekeepers that provide critical pollination services.”
Paul E. Stamets, Nicholas L. Naeger, Jay D. Evans, Jennifer O. Han, Brandon K. Hopkins, Dawn Lopez, Henry M. Moershel, Regan Nally, David Sumerlin, Alex W. Taylor, Lori M. Carris, and Walter S. Sheppard, “Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees,” Scientific Reports, October 4, 2018.