Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Students Seek to Identify Source of Maltese Propolis

New Kids On the Block
Anne Zammit, Times of Malta, 5/24/2009

All is not darkness and gloom. A new group dealing with environmental issues has surfaced on the campus, positively beaming with energy and hope.

In the throes of handing in their final year dissertations, two students reading for a degree in chemistry and biology found time to talk animatedly about Greenhouse, the latest environment-oriented organisation to hit the streets.

Malcolm Borg and Simone Cutajar count themselves among those who believe the individual actions of many can bring much-needed change. Making a start by applying the principles of sustainable living to a small area such as the university campus is where Greenhouse begins…

Many projects and theses carried out at university circle around an environmental theme. Mr Borg has made a survey of the flora at Ġnien Ingraw as part of his dissertation. Ms Cutajar helps out at Argotti Gardens as a tour guide, while in her studies she is seeking to identify the botanical source of propolis.

Most beekeepers are aware of the benefits of propolis, a kind of healing glue produced by bees. This anti-bacterial and anti-viral substance is also recognised for its anti-cancer properties. However, due to the public's lack of awareness of its benefits, there is no established market in Malta and this discourages beekeepers from offering it for sale along with honey and other bee products. The type of propolis produced by Maltese bees appears to be chemically and biologically unique. It is known that bees need tree resin to make propolis.

The riddle is finding out which trees provide the unique chemical substances in their resin that makes Maltese propolis different from the rest. There are indications that conifer and pine trees play a crucial role. While still inconclusive, early results suggest that resins from the rare and endangered Sandarac gum tree (Għargħar) may also be involved.

Isolated populations of Għargħar are old and their seeds may no longer be fertile. Micro-propagation can duplicate cells from cuttings taken from trees found in various locations. This is done for the widest possible genetic diversity in an effort to cross-breed the trees, which could help preserve the species. If this rare tree is found to be the source of the special properties of Maltese propolis it would be an added value that would strengthen arguments for better conservation management…

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