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Biology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Using DNA to see what bees do

To be honest, I had never thought about what we would do if bees and other pollinators disappear, despite knowing that they are currently under threat. But how do plants that depend on pollinators reproduce if the pollinators disappear? In various places throughout history, people had had to go out with tiny paint brushes and spread pollen from one plant to the next. Think about that for a moment.

Now, keep in mind that at least 1/3 of plants that we depend on for food require pollinators. My distopic view of the future just got even more dismal as one of the main human jobs becomes plant pollinator.

The thing is too that we don’t have a perfect picture of all the pollinating that happens because, in the past, it has required a sample of pollinators to be captured and their pollen loads studied under microscope in an attempt to identify the different species of plants the pollen came from. This is not an easy task and there are not enough skilled individuals to make it a viable method for large-scale systems.

Enter pollen barcoding. Researchers take samples from individuals but also from hives or other nests depending on the pollinator and run the DNA to make a bunch of copies (amplify each type of DNA). Then they can look at the codes that exist and compare them to known plant DNA codes. Basically, they use a barcode to identify the different plant species.

This has potential to give a more complete picture of the system than is possible when trying to identify the plants based on how the pollen looks. And with a more complete picture, it may be possible to better identify threats, impacts, and consequences to improve our response.

Check out the complete article here.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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