Scientists have created the perfect environment for bees to thrive

29.10.2016. 11:05

Welcome to a “bee’s paradise”  called the Synthetic Apiary designed by researchers to keep seasonal bees thriving year-round. Video in article.

It’s not a friendly world for bees these days. Urban development, proliferation of agricultural chemicals, and unpredictable seasons induced by climate change have made it difficult for bees to keep on pollinating. Earlier this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service added seven species of bees native to Hawaii to the endangered species list—the first time the country has ever put bees on the list.

So researchers at MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group have created the perfect environment for bees to thrive. It may look like a sterile white room to us humans, but it’s a bee’s paradise, and a space where the scientists can study the insects and better understand their work and their hive behavior. It is called the Synthetic Apiary.

The Synthetic Apiary explores the possibility of a controlled space in which seasonal honeybees can thrive year-round. Light, humidity, and temperature are engineered to simulate a perpetual spring environment. Bees are provided with synthetic pollen and sugared water, and evaluated regularly for health and wellbeing. In this initial experiment, humans and honeybees co-habitate, enabling natural cultivation in an artificial space across scales, from organism- to building-scale.

Watch the video to learn how researchers designed an eternal spring for the bees to enjoy.

The Synthetic Apiary bridges the organism- and building-scale by exploring a “keystone species”: bees. Researchers investigate the cohabitation of humans and bees through a controlled atmosphere and observation of resulting behaviors. The project applies Mediated Matter’s ongoing research into biologically augmented digital fabrication with silkworms and eusocial insect communities to product, architectural, and possibly urban, scales. Many insect communities present collective behavior known as “swarming,” prioritizing group over individual survival, while constantly working to achieve common goals. Often, groups of these eusocial organisms leverage collaborative behavior for relatively large-scale construction. For example, ants create extremely complex networks by tunneling, wasps generate intricate paper nests with materials sourced from local areas, and bees deposit wax to build intricate hive structures.

Honeybees are ideal model organisms because of the historical interplay between their communities and humans. Bees, as agents of cross-pollination, are an essential part of our agricultural production; without them, we would not have the fruits and the vegetables that nourish our lives. Natural honeybee hives can house tens of thousands of insects, all working together as prescribed by a social division of labor. Large-scale hives are made of beeswax and are used for food storage and brood development, as well as shelter. As of now, comparatively little is known about what factors influence the form and structure of hives, though several recent projects have explored using bees as builders or ‘fabricators’ in collaboration with humans.

Massive decline in bees worldwide, due to various factors affecting bee health such as agricultural chemicals, disease, and habitat loss, has raised alarm. As such, the cultivation of bees, the education about their health, and the advancement of non-standard bee environments has become increasingly important for their survival, and for ours. This architectural experiment incorporates several technological and biological investigations, and provides a setup for behavioral experiments regarding both bee fabrication capabilities and health.