Soapy bubbles pop pollen on to fruit trees

Eureka! The soapy experiment was inspired by children playing in the park. © Eijiro Miyako

Are bees replaceable? As numbers of the insects drop worldwide, a team has been searching for alternative approaches to pollination. Now, they have succeeded with the help of a bubble gun.

What’s happening

Dr Erijo Miyako was struggling with his fertilisation project. He had tried all kinds of methods, even using a drone to deliver pollen on to flowers. None of it worked. Then, one day, he was watching his son play with bubbles.

“Pop!” A bubble gently hit his son’s face, and Dr Miyako was inspired.

Find out more

Bees are an essential part of food production. They pollinate a third of all fruit, vegetables, and cereals on the planet. But, as global numbers diminish, some pollination work is being done by hand using a feather brush.

Scientists have been looking for quicker ways to do the work, but mechanical solutions have often harmed the plants. Thanks to Dr Miyako, one team in Japan has finally succeeded. They fired bubbles filled with pollen at a group of pear trees.

As the bubbles landed on the flowers, they popped, and the pollen spread. Two weeks later, the team was rewarded with young fruits. They are now testing a drone that can carry a bubble gun and pollinate more plants.

Bees visit up to 5,000 flowers in one trip. Are they replaceable?

Some say…

Yes. This ingenious invention proves that we can make up for the dwindling numbers of bees around the world. Ideally, we would not need to replace bees. But the reality is that it could soon be necessary. Other scientists have come up with further brilliant solutions, including robotic bees, proving that bees can be replaced if we need them to be.

Others think…

Why replace something when you can save it? Bees are natural pollinators that help our food grow. There is no point in creating technology to replace bees when they have evolved to do the job better than us. Instead, we should be making sure that the insects do not die out. Rather than trying to imitate bees, we should work towards protecting them.

You Decide

  1. Are bees essential to human survival?

Activities

  1. Spend an hour outside looking for bees. Use this identification guide to work out what kinds you spot.

Some People Say...

“The life of man would be made extremely difficult if the bee disappeared.”

Charles Darwin, English naturalist (1809-1882), best-known for his work on evolution

What do you think?

Word Watch

Fertilisation
The process in a plant, where the male and female organs fuse together and produce a seed. Fertilisation is necessary to produce fruit
Drone
An small aircraft that does not have a pilot, but is controlled by someone on the ground.
Pollen
A powder, produced by the male part of a flower, that causes the female part of the same type of flower to produce seeds. It is carried by insects or the wind.
Pollinate
Bees transfer pollen from plant to plant. The pollen sticks to the female stigma and triggers fertilisation.
Diminish
Make or become less.
Mechanical
Something operated by a machine. Previous mechanical solutions included drones, which often broke the flowers they were supposed to pollinate.
Ingenious
Clever and original.
Dwindling
Gradually shrinking in size or amount. In 2019, bee populations in the UK decreased by 40%.

Subjects

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