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The cell phone microscope detects the "silent killer" of honeybees

Demonstration of the use of a portable smartphone parasitic sensor. Credit: UCLA Engineering Institute for Technological Development

Bees are among the most important species responsible for pluming around one-third of the world's food stocks, with US $ 15-20 billion each year contributing to the United States. The rapid weakening of bee colonies on a global scale and in the United States in particular has caused a greater burden on agricultural pollination and the future of food security. Parasites are one of the factors affecting the decline in bee populations, with Nosema ceranea and Nosema apis being some of the most common. Nosema apis infection may have signs of dysentery and exhaustion of honey bees at the entrance to the hive, but Nosema ceranae infection shows no physical symptoms. This "silent killer" of honeybees infects working bees, drones and queen bees, and can even lead to colony collapse.

At present, the only approach to diagnosing this disease is the precise detection of parasitic spores using a light microscope. However, this traditional testing is performed under laboratory conditions and requires professional activity. Therefore, the beekeeper must send local samples to a remote lab to make a precise diagnosis, which is time consuming and costly.

UCLA researchers at the Samueli Engineering School, in collaboration with the Department of Biology at Barnard College, have developed a cellular microscope to enable rapid and automated detection of Nosema disputes in bees in the field. This mobile and cost-effective platform, weighing just 0.8kg, consists of a smartphone based fluorescence microscope, an intelligent phone based application, and an easy-to-use sample preparation protocol that allows fluorescence labeling of bee parasites even in the field.

Aydogan Ozcan, Chancellor of UCLA, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering, and Associate Director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, led the research in collaboration with Jonathan Snow, Barnard College (NY) Biological Scientist and Hace Ceylan Koydemir, lead researcher at UCLA. The study was published in 2006 Lab on the chip, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK).

Diagnosis of the disease with this new platform involves the preparation of samples for the removal of intestinal bees from bees and separation of medium-sized particles, followed by the addition of a small amount of stains to fluorescently labeled spores of parasites. The drop of the prepared solution is then placed on a glass slide, which is then inserted into the microscope of the mobile telephone for analysis. The sample image then captures the smartphone and transfers it to the computer for automated analysis to quickly detect the number of disputes that the user will send back in less than 90 seconds.

Researchers tested the performance of this mobile platform using field samples and found that the device is capable of detecting a parasite concentration on a bee below the threshold required to inform Nosema parasite treatment. Therefore, this mobile-based device meets the required detection sensitivity to determine the treatment.

"Ensuring the welfare of bees is a very important issue of global food safety and the stability of ecosystems." There are many factors that affect the rapidly declining bee population, with parasitic infections being the cheapest way, and our knowledge is the first and only existing portable platform for detecting Nosema disputes in the field, "Ozcan said.

The study was supported by the National Policlinator Protection Campaign, the National Science Foundation Research Center (ERC) and the Howard Hughes Healthcare Institute (HHMI).

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More information:
Jonathan W. Snow et al. Rapid imaging, detection and quantification of Nosema ceranae disputes in bees using cellular-based fluorescence microscopy, Laboratory on the chip (2019). DOI: 10.1039 / C8LC01342J

Reference number:
Laboratory on the chip

UCLA Engineering Institute for Technological Development

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