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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Bee's Knees

Air Date: Week of

Due to recent innovations, some honeybees can now carry pesticides that kill viruses, along with the usual pollen as they carry out their flights. Commentator Ruth Page remarks on this and other notable scientific discoveries.


CURWOOD: While you and I worry about the potential human health costs of pesticides and herbicides being sprayed on crops, farmers worry about the high cost of these chemicals and the delivery system: les than precise hand held sprayers, or low-flying airplanes. But, as commentator Ruth page explains, there is a cheap and natural alternative.

PAGE: Finding a way to lessen both danger and cost would be, in my mom's expression, the bee's knees. Funny she should say that, because a new technique for delivering a bug control to crops is the honeybee express: USDA employees have invented an addition to the beehive entrance, so that when bees plunge out for a pollen picnic, their exit floor is covered with virus-laced talc. The powdery stuff clings to bees' legs and feet, but doesn't harm them. It's a natural bug control. When a bee sips nectar from a flower, she leaves behind a powder trail that kills only the pests targeted by that virus. The inventors first tested the new technique with a virus that kills corn earworm and tobacco bugworm caterpillars. The dusty bee visits killed up to 85% of those larvae in the field.

There's also a better way to clean up after using dangerous chemicals. If you focus ultrasound at an intensity of several million Hertz into a liquid, the vibrations cause tiny bubbles to form. In micro-seconds, the bubbles superheat, expand, collapse. Temperatures in the bubbles can hit 5,500 degrees Celsius. That makes complex molecules in the fluid break up, and who can blame them?

Michael R. Hoffman, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology, calls the process liquid incineration. It doesn't leave any polluting residues. For example, Hoffman has found the noise-tormented bubbles can break down a frighteningly dangerous and persistent pesticide called parathion in 30 minutes. He hopes he can use this bubble ploy to help get rid of chemicals like PCBs, and some of the polluting solvents used in industry.

Then there's the story of an inveterate golfer's solution to what he considered a problem. Some golfers like to hit balls off the decks of cruise ships, lest they get withdrawal symptoms when away from the home course. In 1990 an international treaty was signed to halt the practice of dumping any plastics, and that includes golf balls, into the ocean. Too many sea animals thought they were dinner and were damaged or killed after swallowing them. California inventor and golfer Patrick E. Kane couldn't bear the new ruling. He spent 2 years creating and environment-friendly golf ball. He combines ground citrus peel with the animal protein collagen and calls the ball Aqua Flight. It's a natural food for fish. So if you're at the beach or on shipboard and hear a shout of "Four!" don't panic. It's just a golfer feeding the fish.

CURWOOD: Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont. She comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.



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