Where would we be without bees? As far as important species go, they are top of the list. They pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.
That’s only the start. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain. Which means a world without bees could struggle to sustain the global human population of 7 billion. Our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables.
You see, when one realises that the bees receive very many influences from the starry worlds, one sees also how they can pass on to man what is fitted for him.
All that is living, when it is rightly combined, works rightly together. When one stands before a hive of bees one should say quite solemnly to oneself: “By way of the bee-hive the whole Cosmos enters man and makes him strong and able.”
Rudolf Steiner, 1923
In my back garden the bees attend to the flowers and plants as usual, but whenever I sit nearby, one of them comes to watch over me. I say that because after my arrival he swoops to a place about 2 metres away, hovering perfectly still in mid-air, turning at right angles sometimes in the blink of an eye, and then back again, but always in the same place. I don’t know if he’s keeping a respectful distance, or was assigned to keep me in my place. It’s as if he knows me: they can read electrical fields, and I guess he can read mine, and by doing so might know more about me than I do. But the more I learn about them, the more fantastic and well-ordered his society seems.
The problem of how the bee developed all these resources causes the same conundrum as the origin of the cell. It is said all cells come from a cell because that long-distant ancestor needed complex features like DNA, a 3-d printer and error-checker, the sense to avoid toxins and gravitate to food, an internal signalling system, machinery for movement and for generating energy, a permeable wall defining it and so on, or else it could never have produced another cell. As if it were a big bang of biology, here is where we hit a wall.
For that matter the first cell also required a recyclable fuel and the machinery to consume it, and none of this equipment is simple – far from it! As is the case now, the cell’s only concern was to stay alive and reproduce at any cost. Otherwise, how is it still with us? But however it arose, all these elements, and more, had to arrive at one time along with whatever features in the environment enabled it to live. How is that even possible?
Because the intellect works step by step, our favourite theories are those in which everything happens incrementally. We can make sense of them and will even bend the evidence to fit, if need be, to join those separate dots. We prefer the step-by-step, even, absurdly, to rationalise our puzzle over an Almighty: “if there is a God, who created God?” We perceive the world passing by, moment by moment. But this cosy view comes to a stop at the Big Bang: it’s hard to see how an infinitely tuned Universe arrives out of one huge blast when we know explosions are unpredictable and destructive events.
Although we don’t know this about the insect brain, the human brain commits to decisions about half a second before the owner becomes aware of them. Our intellect seems a subset of something beyond us, making human life more as Shakespeare imagined, a stage in which we play a role. The bee is a fantastic example of instinct without a self-conscious layer: it can’t have any idea why it behaves as it does or whether there might be a better life away from his nine to five and an endless honey-do list from the hive. It doesn’t question its role, yet works with an urgency and a fidelity stretching back hundreds of millions of years.
Nature is much closer to genius than to the intellect. That’s probably why the enzymes laboriously created by our best engineers work at a miserly 2 transactions a second, while in the same fleeting instant, Nature’s superoxide dismutase can churn out several million reactions without missing a beat, while totally compatible with everything else inside and around the cell. Papain in the papaya fruit, and bromelain in the pineapple work at 30,000 completed transactions per second. Why should fruit be fully loaded with enzymes for which it has no use?
Maybe we shouldn’t ask how the bee got here, though one thing seems sure: Monty Python’s song Eric, the Half a Bee notwithstanding, there couldn’t have been a prototype with half formed wings and sawn off legs plummeting helplessly and trampled underfoot, because life doesn’t support the half-designed, half efficient, half liability. All life forms contain a different shade of wonders, but there is something marvellous about the bee. The bee seems made from sacrifice: using their sting means death, but even in life the average bee sacrifices procreation, donating its life instead to the welfare of the hive. Ants, too, do the same but there is something majestic about the bee and its mathematically and chemically perfect creations.
The bee survives fully formed or not at all; specimens trapped in amber from 125 million years ago are practically identical to those alive today for two reasons: the design is complete, and DNA is perfectly stable even over hundreds of millions of generations. Instead of arriving about 125 million years ago, scientists are starting to think that flying insects, the bee among them, first appeared along with flowering plants as long ago as 345 million years.
This co-ordination must be for the same reason spiders (along with their webs, their multiple-nozzle, perfectly controlled silk spinning mechanisms, fantastic mountaineering skills and sense of geometry) arrived along with flying insects: Nature appears to be one almighty system in which every actor has a specific role, and somehow arrives on stage with the precise neural and physical equipment to carry it out. But nowhere is this co-ordination more obvious than in the bee, and even its own colour scheme seems united with that of its honeycomb.
We associate bees with flowers and honey, but they also are able to calculate angles, identify individual peers and communicate flight paths to them, and it is said they can even take into account the roundness of the Earth. As researchers found a long time ago:
..a trio of Swiss and American researchers discovered that the light-sensitive cells in a bee’s eye are twisted like corkscrews. Now, at last, two of the group have found out why.
If the cells were not twisted, they say, bees would live in a psychedelic world where the colours of leaves would constantly change, making it difficult to find food (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 90, p 4132)
What is Bee Propolis?
Bees also make a building material which exceeds in usefulness any chemical made by man. It’s a special kind of glue, to waterproof and defend their hives, called propolis, which is made by mixing secretions from their hypopharyngeal glands with digested products from leaves, flowers and tree bark resin. Propolis is very sticky – I got a 50% mix of it on a toothbrush and had to throw it out the next day – sticky enough to keep out the rain and embalm enemies in their tracks.
But it’s also deadly to unwanted bacteria, fungi and larvae, exhibiting anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-oxidative properties in humans. It even sterilises the hive and provides a kind of social immunity for all its members.
Egyptians knew very well the antiputrefactive properties of propolis, and used it to embalm cadavers. Propolis was recognized for its multiplicity of medicinal uses, and remarkable safety profile by the Greek and Roman physicians, Aristoteles, Dioscorides, Pliny and Galen.
If you never thought of bees as chemists, consider what their propolis does for us humans:
- decreases dental hypersenitivity better even than our ion-altering potassium mixes
- prevents cavities
- decreases oral mucositis created by chemotherapy toxins
- strengthens salivary glands
- reduces xerostomia in saliva glands caused by radiation therapy
- prevents oral cancer
- inhibits plaque
- acts as an anti-inflammatory
- stimulates wound healing in the dental pulp
- acts as an analgesic
- acts as antibacterial agent against oral pathogens
- reduces Enterococcus faecalis in root canals
- lessens gingivitus
- reduces recurrent aphthous stomatitis (mouth ulcers)
- protects oral mucosa
- helps heal wounds after oral surgery
Propolis is a highly complex mixture of more than 300 components including:
- phenolic acid
- cinnamic acid
- caffeic acid
- aromatic aldehydes
- amino acids
- fatty acids
- vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, B7
- essential oils
- flavonoids: flavones, flavonols, flavanones
Information gleaned from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4463674/pdf/ijms-16-10748.pdf
Propolis as chemotherapy:
One of the stars of this chemical cabaret is caffeic acid phenethyl ester, or CAPE. Cancer researchers found that CAPE tears into cancer with a mind-boggling collection of mechanisms:
CAPE is a strong antioxidant extracted from honeybee hive propolis. Recent studies indicate that CAPE treatment can effectively suppress the proliferation, survival, and metastasis of oral cancer cells.
CAPE treatment inhibits Akt signaling, cell cycle regulatory proteins, NF-κB function, as well as activity of matrix metalloproteinase (MMPs), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), and Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2).
Therefore, CAPE treatment induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in oral cancer cells. According to the evidence that aberrations in the EGFR/phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (Akt) signaling, NF-κB function, COX-2 activity, and MMPs activity are frequently found in oral cancers, and that the phosphorylation of Akt, EGFR, and COX-2 correlates to oral cancer patient survival and clinical progression, we believe CAPE treatment will be useful for treatment of advanced oral cancer patients.
Due to its all-round usefulness, several companies market variations of propolis, and one particularly well laid out page full of relevant information can be found here.
Researchers tested the cytotoxicity of CAPE both alone and contained in propolis. The results showed that CAPE is cytotoxic to breast cancer cells in a time and dose dependent manner. That means the more they used and the longer they used it, the greater the cytotoxic effect – without any downside. They also found CAPE alone was not as effective as propolis: the conclusion was that using whole foods was superior to using isolated supplements, something Joanna Budwig stressed for cancer patients from the 1950’s. How can chemotherapy, comprised of one man-made, toxic, molecule compete with this? If, in a single tomato there are 10,000 phytonutrients, how could that be turned into a patentable equivalent, where every molecule has been altered? Each molecule would need to be tested in isolation, and with every other – a virtually infinite number of different trials, each costing millions of dollars.
The writers found 10 times less CAPE was required for the same effect when it was included within propolis. In Nature we don’t see a drop-off in performance of combined elements – in this case, at least 300 – nor do we see toxicity anywhere in that combination of elements. This is so remarkable that people assume it must be no big deal to achieve.
The experiments were on cancer cells in the lab, but they also measured the rate of acetylation of histones – the epigenetic mechanism – in a healthy volunteer after three weeks of oral doses of propolis. So they know it triggers the same mechanisms that caused cytotoxicity in the lab within the human body, and this is without any side effects at all.
Interestingly in the abstract, the writers point out that up to 80% of cancer patients admit to using supplements even when advised not to by oncologists, and that this was a multi billion dollar industry in 2009. I imagine it is an even healthier market now, and I think you can see why.
Other research has been done on oral cancers and CAPE, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2015, 16). A staggering number of mechanisms are unravelled, with the conclusion that CAPE should be considered – get this – a chemotherapy agent!
According to the above summariesin this review, there is strong evidence that CAPE treatment suppress proliferation, survival, metastasis, EGFR and COX-2 activity, PI3K -Akt signaling, and Skp2in human oral cancer cells.
So, what’s the bad news?
The bad news is, after a third of a billion years, bees are getting wiped out, and we’re still guessing why, though the fingers already point at us. The present crisis they face reveals a surprising fragility for a 300 million year survivor, indicating it is not neccessarily robustness of a species which ensures longevity, but balance and harmony in the environment. The problems seem to arise from our chemical products, incompatible with Nature and even our own bodies, for we also suffer as a result.
The stress caused to adult bees when the young are underpowered mentally and physically is detailed in a very interesting Public Library of Science One paper. The neurotoxins in pesticides must certainly be one cause of bee colony collapse – what else can we expect when we produce (for human consumption!) crops whose every cell produces neurotoxins – but there is another problem, and it’s a pretty nasty one.
A PLoS-1 article named Bumblebee Pupae Contain High Levels of Aluminium was published only a month ago:
We measured content of aluminium in bumblebee pupae taken from naturally foraging colonies in the UK. Individual pupae were acid-digested in a microwave oven and their aluminium content determined.
Pupae were heavily contaminated with aluminium giving values between 13.4 and 193.4 μg/g dry wt. and a mean value of 51.0 (33.0) μg/g dry wt. for the 72 pupae tested. Mean aluminium content was shown to be a significant negative predictor of average pupal weight in colonies…the actual content of aluminium in pupae are extremely high and demonstrate significant exposure to aluminium.
Bees rely heavily on cognitive function and aluminium is a known neurotoxin with links to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. The significant contamination of bumblebee pupae by aluminium raises the spectre of cognitive dysfunction playing a role in their population decline.
The story was quickly picked up by other outlets including ScienceDaily and various MSM papers, but begs the question: how does aluminium, always bound to other materials in the soil, become a free element finding its way into the fields and flowers?
The first I heard of nanoscale aluminium was when Canadian egghead David Keith, backed by Carnegie Mellon, proposed spraying five megatons of the stuff into the atmosphere to deflect solar radiation. After all, neither we nor the planet needs sunlight for anything useful. What would be the dangers, someone asked? He didn’t know and clearly hadn’t bothered to look:
The Lancet, October 1982:
..analyses of the domestic water supply for each month on dialysis showed that dementia occurred only in those whose water supply had a high aluminium concentration (>80μg/l).
Another public figure talking about nanoscale aluminium these days is the neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, who says autopsies of dementia patients show exceptionally large amounts of it collected in the brain around the junction with the olfactory nerve – the same area responsible for short term memory. According to Blaylock, nanoscale aluminium travels up the olfactory nerve, collects in the brain, and, I’m guessing, never travels out again. Good to see Keith did his homework.
Whatever the case, it’s a problem we’d better find an answer to quickly. Could it be that, like pesticides, nano aluminium really is being sprayed somehow, and if so, who would be crazy enough to do such a thing? These are all very good questions!
More information on insect facial recognition, if you’re interested: