Diabetic 'health honey' a reality thanks to nanotechnology and stevia

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Nectar packaged in microcapsules is the perfect size for bees to carry
Nectar packaged in microcapsules is the perfect size for bees to carry

Related tags Honey

A new hybridised pollen, developed by a former Nasa scientist, can be fed to bees to create a new species of “designer honey” for use by diabetics.

The bee food, made with extracts from the stevia plant and beeswax, has been developed and is being field tested in the tropical forests of Malaysia. The honey it produces can be sold in global markets by patients with Types I and II diabetes. 

The hybridized pollen was invented by former Nasa scholar Dr Joseph A Resnick, principal research fellow at the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and a consultant to some international food, hi-tech and cosmetics companies.

Leading a team of researchers in collaboration with local and Nasa scientists, along with corporate and institutional researchers, Resnick’s work focuses on the discovery of new plant compounds in the tropical forests of Malaysia, China and in Mexico. 

The team is also identifying and developing new plant extract formulations that can then being used to develop plant-based, sustainable products for use as bee food supplements, in treatments for hive disorders and for use in human healthcare schemes, such as the designer honey.

Nanotechnology delivery

Resnick's researchers are using microcapsule technology spun-off from previous Nasa projects to create the new hybridised pollen bee food supplement to create the new species of honey.  

To produce the honey, the bees are fed the formulated pollen, which is made with natural beeswax and stevia extracts and packaged in microcapsules the size of pollen grains.

Stevia, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, contains Rebaudisol A-E and X, compounds which have a number of health benefits in humans and are proven to help cure some diseases.

In a paper, Resnick detailed the team’s recent advancements in developing a delivery system using conventional beeswax. The new bee food contains nutrients that can help bees produce more eggs and honey products. The technology has the potential to be used in a range applications, he said.

"The particles are identical in size and weight to pollen grains typically gathered by bees when they forage for food​,” said Resnick. “Using the instrument I developed in collaboration with [other] researchers, I create microcapsules that are 20 microns in diameter​.” 

Just like nectar

During the manufacturing process, a quantity of special liquid nectar is placed inside the tiny balls, which are the the ideal size for bees to carry back to the hive, where it can be used and assimilated by the colony.  

The balls are easily carried in the bees' pollen sacks located on the hind legs, just like natural pollen grains are carried in nature​,” said Resnick, adding that his studies show the bees will consume around 10 grams of the new material over a six-day period.  

My initial field observations, made during the current monsoon season here in Malaysia, have convinced me that this substance is ideal for all beekeepers for use as a practical bee food supplement during monsoon and winter seasons worldwide.​”

It could also help to halt the extinction of the M. beecheii in Mexico’s Yucatán, where some beekeepers report the loss of as much as 40% of their bees over the winter months or during monsoon season in the tropics

The microcapsules can also be used as a delivery system for antibiotics, for example, to treat hive diseases like AFB disease and other diseases that bees can carry into the hive. They can be produced in macro, micro, nano, pico and femto scales and can hold anything that will fit. 

Field testing of the new bee food has been in progress in the United States, China and Malaysia, with additional studies planned in Yucatán and Brazil. Resnick said he plans to use another variation of the hybridised pollen to address the extinction of the M. beecheii, which is causing havoc in Latin America.

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