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Sunflower field
Laurenitis Farm, Sunderland

WED 11:22 AM


Person in a white beekeeper suit stands in a field of sunflowers

Photo: Sarah Harper

Sunflowers provide a ray of hope for fighting off Crithidia bombi, a widespread bee pathogen, though scientists haven’t understood exactly why. But a recent paper concludes that the spiny structure of sunflower pollen is responsible.

Lead author Laura Figueroa, assistant professor of environmental conservation, separated sunflower pollen’s spiny outer shell from the chemical metabolites in its core, feeding the two to different groups of bees. As part of the study, researchers (including the student pictured) traveled to field sites to weigh observational bumblebee colonies, collect pollen from returning worker bees, and assess the bloom status of the sunflower crop.

Honey bee

The result? “We discovered that the bees that ate the spiny sunflower pollen shells suffered 87% lower infections from C. bombi,” Figueroa says.