Three-quarters of crop species globally require pollination, and bees and other insect pollinators are disappearing. We cannot sustain the world’s population without them.
Or can we? A new study by Eijiro Miyako and Xi Yang from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has come up with a curious solution to the problem: soap bubbles.
Miyako has been working on artificial pollination methods, including using robotic drones, for some time. After a few missteps in robotic pollination that resulted in damaged flowers, he turned towards soap bubbles with embedded pollen, a gentler method. After experimenting with several different chemical compositions, he and Yang settled on one that produced the best performance of the pollen.
To test this invention in the field, the pair loaded the pollen solution in a bubble gun and pollinated three trees in a pear orchard. Sixteen days later, the trees bore fruit, which were the same as the pears that were pollinated via a traditional manual pollination method, using a feather brush. As their next step, Miyako and Yang placed an automatic bubble blower on a small drone, making the pollination process faster and more efficient.
There are still several details that need to be worked out before drones can rain bubbles over vast fields and orchards. For example, we need to make sure that the chemical components of the bubbles do not harm local wildlife. Nonetheless, this charming invention could be the one that finally gives honey bees a well-deserved rest.