Honey bees are the most economically important agricultural pollinators on Earth, but their populations have been in decline for decades. In fact, an average of 40% to 50% of honey bee colonies in the U.S. die annually. Researchers at Indiana University are investigating how to use the honey bee's natural microbiome to keep them healthy, which has implications for food security and the agricultural industry. In a recent study, researchers identified a specific bacterial microbe that protects bees from fungal infection. The microbe is found in key colony environments such as queen guts and developing larval bees, as well as in honey and pollen. IU biologist Irene Newton says researchers have known about the gut microbiome in worker bees and how that microbiome may protect from bacterial disease, but less is known about the queen, who is the key to the health of honey bee colonies. Newton and her team discovered that one specific microbe associated with queens and larval bees inhibits the growth of fungi. Newton says bees, as highly social organisms that share food stores and participate in feeding behaviors with nestmates, are at high risk of contracting and transmitting contagious diseases. Many fungi that are found commonly in our environment can be deadly to honey bee offspring if transmitted into the hive Newton says the common practice of treating honey bees with antibiotics may alter the beneficial microbes present. The addition of the newly identified microbe could protect bees from these opportunistic pathogens. The next step for the researchers is to identify the antifungal molecule itself.
In other news, cosmetics have been a part of society for thousands of years. But what exactly is in the makeup we put on our skin? A recent study from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame found many cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada likely contain high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a potentially toxic class of chemicals linked to a number of serious health conditions. The scientists tested more than 200 cosmetics including concealers, foundations, eye and eyebrow products and various lip products. According to the study, 56 percent of foundations and eye products, 48 percent of lip products and 47 percent of mascaras tested were found to contain high levels of fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS use in the product. Previously found in nonstick cookware, treated fabrics, fast food wrappers and, most recently, the personal protective equipment used by firefighters across the country, PFAS are known as “forever chemicals,” because the chemical compounds don’t naturally degrade — which means they end up contaminating groundwater for decades after their release into the environment. Studies have linked certain PFAS to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypertension, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children. Additionally, 29 products with high fluorine concentrations were tested further and found to contain between four and 13 specific PFAS, but only one of the items tested listed PFAS as an ingredient on the product label. Researchers say the full extent of use of fluorinated chemicals in cosmetics is hard to estimate due to the lack of strict labeling requirements in both the U.S. and in Canada.