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It is no secret that the bee, though a small pollinator, is hugely important for humans and the global ecosystem. In spite of that, since 2006, U.S. commercial beekeepers have reported honey bee colony loss rates averaging 30 percent every winter. The exact reasons for this decline are still being researched, though many agree pesticides play a large role. One thing is certain, however; without bees, our agricultural system will be destroyed, and we need to do everything to avoid it.

According to recent findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, glyphosate, which is the most widely used herbicide in the world, might play a part in seriously harming honey bees. Although believed to be harmless to animals, the chemical may be disrupting the microbial community in the bees’ digestive system, this way making them more vulnerable to infection.

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Nancy Moran, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Texas in Austin, has spent a decade researching honey bees’ gut microbiome, that is the bacteria inhabiting their intestines, Science reports. Moran found that bees who consumed glyphosate had five times less of the bacterium, which then appeared to make the creatures more vulnerable to lethal infections. During tests on several hundred bees, only 12 percent of those fed glyphosate survived infection with Serratia marcescens, as opposed to 47 percent of bees who were not fed the chemical.

Glyphosate works by killing plants through blocking an enzyme they use to make several key amino acids. The enzyme is not produced by animals, but it is used in some bacteria. The study, in addition to shining a light on the effects of the chemical on bees, also raises the question about whether glyphosate can be impacting the microbiome of other animals and people.

The results of the research add another element to the already wide array of potential reasons for the recent decline in populations of honey bees. In the last years, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. have witnessed almost a third of their hives fail in winter, which amounts to more than twice the historic rate. According to researchers, pesticides, pathogens, parasites, and nutritional problems all contribute to the current alarming situation of bees.

Glyphosate is one of the world’s most popular ingredient of household products, like Roundup. The chemical has also been labeled as a possible carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. The new discovery is yet another reason to be highly skeptical about glyphosate, even if chemical companies swear by its safety. In the U.S., bees cannot bear any more additional strain on their populations, which makes it so important to avoid all products which can harm them and, through that, harm the environment and us. Click here to sign a Care2 petition asking Home Depot, the country’s largest home improvement store, to help keep the chemical out of the ecosystem by not putting it on the shelves in the first place.

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Image source: JamesDeMers/Pixabay