Stingless Bees Create Health Buzz
By Janel Shorthouse, ABC, 12 June, 2012
It's time for the European honey bee and the bumble bee to step aside, because the lesser known Australian native stingless bee is proving its medical worth in modern health solutions.
Research is currently underway to discover whether stingless bees, also known as Australian sugarbag bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) hold similar antimicrobial properties as discovered in the celebrated Manuka honey.
The secrets all lie in a sticky by-product called propolis that is delicately woven by the bees into the beeswax during nest construction.
Propolis is a mixture of plant resins enriched with bee secretions believed to protect the colony within the hive from dangerous pathogens.
While extensive research attests to the therapeutic properties of honeybee (Apis mellifera) propolis, the chemical and biological properties of the propolis from Australian stingless bees are largely unknown.
Flavia Massaro of Italy has dedicated the last ten years of her life to studying propolis from Australian stingless bees, and hopes to uncover its chemical properties during her research scholarship and PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Her enthusiasm for the little black Aussie insect is infectious, as she describes opening a stingless bee hive.
"When we open the hive box, it's like Christmas Day, all the chemicals are right there in front of us.
"Bees are a bit like chemists themselves. They are able to pick up plant odorants with their antennae from a few kilometres away to determine which plants they will visit for nectar and resin foraging.
"After foraging on plant resins, bees mix them with beeswax to make propolis ...this mixture is used as a building material by stingless bees to make cells for their progeny (brood), and for their food (pollen and honey).
Flavia says propolis is a powerful chemical weapon used against hive-enemies such as the small hive beetle that bees embalm to keep their colony safe, and to preserve their honey.
"Propolis and honey can be beneficial to humans also, as it can be used in medicines such as antimicrobial preparations and for wound healing," says Flavia…