Science Interviews

Interview

Mon, 2nd Feb 2009

Bees Defend Fish Farms from Fungi

Kelvin Kemm

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Meera - It seems that bees could be helping out the fish farming industry.

Propolis in beehivesKelvin -   Absolutely, there’s been the most interesting development here, by a couple of scientists, Paul Collet and Ernst Thompson, who both, in fact have an interest in bee keeping but are both trained in Aquaculture.  What they’ve found is a black sticky substance that bees put around the entrance to their hives, it’s called Propolis – pro from the Greek ‘in front’ and polis from the Greek word for ‘city’.  So ‘in front of the city’, it’s a protection at the gate.  It’s a black sticky stuff and the bees actually collect it from plants.  When plants get damaged, by insects or wounded in some way the plants get like scabs.  These little scabs defend the plant against bacteria or other pathogens that could harm the plant.  Now the bees have found this out, and the bees collect this stuff and roll it up into little balls and carry it back to the hive.  This stuff has got anti-fungal and anti-yeast and anti-bacterial properties, so they build an entrance protection at the hive and also if there’s any cracks or holes in the hive, they bees seal them up with this Propolis.

Meera -   Why is this useful to the fish industry?  What are the problems with farming fish?

Kelvin -   The fish farming business is big money all over the world.  However, the fish are very vulnerable when they’re in the form of eggs and larvae and of course if you lose a number it can affect your profitability substantially.  They’ve traditionally used certain anti-fungals that have been artificially manufactured in factories, but a lot of laws and standards around the world have been passed to ban the use of some of these traditional anti-fungals.

Now these two fellows have found out that this Propolis from the bee hives can be converted into chemicals that can be used in the aquaculture business and seem to be producing results just as good, if not better, than the traditional medicines that have been used in the aquaculture business.

They’ve actually manufactured a product now which is on sale, it’s called Speelmanskop Biobalsam.  Now interestingly, Propolis itself has already been used in products as diverse as toothpaste, lip balm and chewing gum, so it’s been indicated as very safe for human consumption – there’s no problem using it in the water and for fish. 

It’s working, so they look as if they’re on to a good thing.  Maybe it will spread all over the world and become a really amazing product.

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