Agilent and the Vanishing Bees

What’s killing our bees?  Agilent has the answer!

What’s killing our bees? Agilent has the answer!

Honeybee populations around the world have been declining for almost a decade.  And that trend has just taken a disturbing turn.

According to an annual survey, more than 40 percent of American honeybee colonies died over the past year, the second-highest annual loss in the past nine years.  What’s disturbing is that for the first time bee deaths peaked during the summer, when colonies normally thrive.

The concept of “Colony Collapse Disorder” was first coined in 2006, when beekeepers began reporting an unusual rate of hive loss.  While the rate of loss has fluctuated between 30 and 90 percent per year, it was actually improving until the latest findings.

Honeybees are considered a “keystone species,” meaning that their loss would cause a cascading loss of other species throughout the ecosystem.  Scientists estimate that one third of the human food supply depends on pollination by honeybees.  They are responsible for pollinating numerous fruit, nut, vegetable and field crops; including apples, almonds, onions and cotton.  “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth,” scientist Albert Einstein once declared, “Man would have only four years left to live.”

Scientists have identified three leading causes of CCD:

  • Parasites (such as Varroa mites)
  • Pesticides
  • Loss of habitat

Agilent has been instrumental in this research.

The parasitic Varroa mite is highly destructive to bees, causing deformed wing virus and other diseases.  While the western honeybee is vulnerable, the Asian honeybee has developed protective mechanisms.  Canadian scientists seeking to breed more resistant honeybees used an Agilent Bioanalyzer and RNA 6000 Nano kits to identify biomarkers relevant to resistance.  French scientists used an Agilent Bioanalyzer and QPCR Systems to study whether the nutrients in pollen can help treat malnourished and Varroa-affected bees.

Researchers are also trying to develop acaricides that can kill Varroa mites without harming the bees or their honey.  Agilent HPLCs can measure four different acaricides to ensure their safe use in beehives.  British scientists have also used an Agilent QuikChange mutagenesis kit to investigate anti-Varroa treatments at a proteomic and metabolomics level.

Greenpeace conducted an extensive study that examined bees from 12 European countries.  Researchers discovered residues from 53 different pesticides in more than 65 percent of pollen and honeycomb samples.  Pesticide mixtures can be even more toxic than the individual pesticides, causing increased stress and mortality in bee populations.  Agilent GC-MS/MS Triple-Quad and GC-MS MSD systems were used in the analysis.


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He tried and failed. He tried again and again… and succeeded.

Do you know the amazing story behind evaporated milk?

Do you know the amazing story behind evaporated milk?

Last week I posted the sad story of John Gorrie, who invented refrigeration but died penniless.  Today’s story has a much happier ending.  Gail Borden Jr. is remembered as the inventor of condensed milk.  Nevertheless, his road to success was far from smooth.

In the early 1800s, Borden was a land surveyor who helped plan the Texas cities of Houston and Galveston.  He also helped write the Texas constitution.  But after the deaths of his wife and children, Borden vowed to make pioneer life easier by finding better ways to preserve food.

Remember this was still the age before refrigeration.  Borden’s first experiment was a dehydrated meat biscuit, based on Native American pemmican.  But his company failed after losing a military contract to competitors, leaving him penniless.

After Borden saw several children die from drinking contaminated milk, he decided to find a way to preserve milk indefinitely.  It took three years of work, but Borden was able to extract 75 percent of the water from milk while preserving the taste with sugar.  His final breakthrough was to perform the entire process in airtight pans, which ensured sterility.  He applied for a patent on May 14, 1853.

Borden finally had a product, but he had no money to manufacture or market it.  He tried three times to launch a business without success.  Finally, by sheer chance, he met a financier on a train trip who admired his enthusiasm.  The two struck a deal and created the New York Condensed Milk Company.  Competitors could not duplicate Borden’s success without his patented airtight process.  A few years later, the American Civil War created skyrocketing demand for condensed milk.  Borden’s fortune was finally made.

Despite his now immense wealth, Borden often spent his later years in New York’s slums giving money to the needy.  He died in 1874 in Borden, Colorado – a town named after him.  His company later changed its name to “the Borden Company” as well.  Borden’s gravestone bears this epitaph: “I tried and failed.  I tried again and again and succeeded.”

Today, Agilent is a world leader in ensuring food safety and quality.  Agilent GCs and HPLCs have been used to detect harmful substances in evaporated milk, including methionine sulfoxide (a naturally occurring byproduct) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (an environmental pollutant).

Agilent equipment was also used in a study that showed how buttermilk and cream residue – which are rich in milk proteins and phospholipids – can improve heat stability during the processing of evaporated milk.


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Agilent Improves Instrument Resolution and Sensitivity by 5X

The Agilent 6545 includes several cutting-edge advances

The Agilent 6545 includes several cutting-edge advances

Agilent has introduced a new analytical instrument that provides up to five times more resolving power and sensitivity than earlier instruments.

The Agilent 6545 is in the mid-range of its Q-TOF LC/MS portfolio.  These sophisticated instruments are used by analytical laboratories to detect and identify unknown samples of everything from chemicals to foods to forensic evidence.

(“Q-TOF LC/MS” stands for “quadrupole time-of-flight liquid chromatograph/mass spectrometer.”)

“Customers tell us that sensitivity is becoming one of their most important requirements,” says Agilent’s Dr. Ben Owen.  “Users cannot afford to miss low-intensity compounds.  And they need this sensitivity to go across a wide range of applications.”

The 6545 includes several cutting-edge advances in both hardware and software, including new ion optics, new tuning technology and high-voltage power.  The instrument can detect more compounds at very low levels, with mass accuracy of less than 1 part per million.

The new instrument fills out Agilent’s family of QTOF offerings:

  • The entry-level Agilent 6530 accommodates budget accounts. It is ideal for chemical and forensic applications.
  • The mid-range Agilent 6545 offers the greatest value. It is ideal for food safety and environmental screening.
  • The high-end Agilent 6550 provides maximum sensitivity. It is ideal for proteomics, metabolomics and glycomics.

“The 6545 Q-TOF offers a substantial leap forward in sensitivity, while maintaining all other features one expects from a high-end Q-TOF system,” says Dr. Koen Sandra of the Research Institute for Chromatography.

“The 6545 Q-TOF can be a workhorse in both targeted and untargeted profiling of small molecules in a wide range of applications.  We were suddenly able to elucidate impurities in pharmaceutical samples that we overlooked in the past.”


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