Monthly Archives: October 2014

Decline of Pollinators could Worsen Global Malnutrition

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Pollinators contribute to about 10% of the economic value of crop production, but the contribution to human nutrition by these pollinators is potentially much higher. This is because pollinators support the sexual reproduction (by transfer of gametes aka pollen) of crops high in essential nutrients that malnourished regions of the world rely on. This suggests that regions already facing food shortages and nutritional deficiencies will suffer particularly hard from the global decline of bees and other pollinators.

Many of the crops dependent on animal vectors to pollinate (instead of wind) are the ones most rich in micronutrients essential for human health. The recent decline of important pollinators, such as the domesticated Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, has lead to concerns on the economic and now nutritional situation of crop production.  Dr Chaplin-Kramer and colleagues set out to assess the importance of pollinators to global health by determining which regions these crops are most critical for and what their micro-nutrient content is.

The research concluded that pollinator decline could affect different regions of the world in entirely different ways. Developed regions such as China, Japan, U.S.A. and Europe relied on natural pollinators for producing crops of high economic value, whereas lesser developed regions such as South Asia, India and sub-Saharan Africa relied on natural pollinators for producing crops of high nutritional value. Chaplin-Kramer and colleagues also mapped out hotspots that relied on 3 essential micro-nutrients; iron, vitamin A and folate. The regions depending most on pollination for nutrition delivery also tend to have high rates of malnutrition and poverty.

The health concerns potentially resulting from this include vitamin A deficiency, which is associated with blindness and increased risk of disease, iron deficiency which causes anaemia and pregnancy complications, and lack of folate that causes folate deficiency anemia. This study has also highlighted that the effects of pollinator decline are much more diverse and widespread than the well-known crop production and income problems. However there are ways for the regions to adapt to changes to pollination services, such as using managed bee colonies to supplement wild populations, switching to alternative nutrition-equivalent crops less reliant on bee pollination and importing nutrient-rich foods from other countries.

Chaplin-Kramer, R., Dombeck, E., Gerber, J., Knuth, K. A., Mueller, N. D., Mueller, M., … & Klein, A. M. (2014). Global malnutrition overlaps with pollinator-dependent micronutrient production. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1794), 20141799.

Cells from Insects could Create Everlasting Paint.

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Durable, cheap and environmentally friendly paint may soon be on sale since scientists at the Natural History Museum in London have unlocked the key to paint that never fades, using unique cells from butterflies and other insects. The Blue Morpho butterfly, Morpho peleides, is just one of many insects that have transparent, iridescence wings created by small three-dimensional structures that alter the way light is reflected.

The phenomenon is created by ‘structural colouration’. The wing is made up of transparent scales that have intricate shapes, which scatter light when it hits them. This is what creates the vibrant colour that changes when looking at it from different angles. Professor Andrew Parker, Oxford University, has grown cells from butterfly wings and weevil shells that have this nano-property.

Cells dissected from the blue morpho chrysalis were used to culture an entire forewing. The team attempted to convert the cells to scales, but part of the original cell was lost, so that the cells couldn’t be used to produce more scales. This means that butterfly cells are suitable for mass production of coloured scales, but other insects like the Blue Weevil, genus Metapocyrtus, could be used instead. These weevils use a different type of cell, also found in the opal gemstone, which can be used to make any colour.

Traditional dyes and pigments fade over time, whereas paints, clothes and make-up that use structural colouration could retain their colour and vibrancy forever. Cosmetic and paint industries would require huge quantities for commercial use, which may only be achievable using the weevil cells. With a sufficient supply of nutrients and growth hormones, cells from weevils could be used to make industrial quantities of everlasting paint.

Source: Natural History Museum.