ONE HONEY OF AN IDEA

Mushroom dream of a ‘long-haired hippie’ could help save the world’s bees

SEATTLE—The epiphany that mushrooms could help save the world’s ailing bee colonies struck Paul Stamets while he was in bed.

“I love waking dreams,” he said. “It’s a time when you’re just coming back into consciousness.”

Years ago, in 1984, Stamets had noticed a “continuous convoy of bees” traveling from a patch of mushrooms he was growing and his beehives. The bees actually moved wood chips to access his mushroom’s mycelium, the branching fibers of fungus that look like cobwebs.

“I could see them sipping on the droplets oozing from the mycelium,” he said. They were after its sugar, he thought.

Decades later, he and a friend began a conversation about bee colony collapse that left Stamets, the owner of a mushroom mercantile, puzzling over a problem. Bees across the world have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Parasites like mites, fast-spreading viruses, agricultural chemicals and lack of forage area have stressed and threatened wild and commercial bees alike.

Waking up one morning, “I connected the dots,” he said. “Mycelium have sugars and antiviral properties,” he said. What if it wasn’t just sugar that was useful to those mushroom-suckling bees so long ago?

In research published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, Stamets turned intuition into reality. The paper describes how bees given a small amount of his mushroom mycelia extract exhibited remarkable reductions in the presence of viruses associated with parasitic mites that have been attacking, and infecting, bee colonies for decades.

 

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