Honeybees not only sting, but bite as well, and these bites can act as natural anesthetics which assist the bees in defending themselves against enemies, such as the wax-moth and parasitic varroa mite, however, this anesthetic may be beneficial for humans too.

This new discovery, by a group of experts from French and Greek organizations together with Vita (Europe) Ltd., honeybee health specialists in the UK, may result in new medical advances, including the manufacturing of a natural, low toxicity local anesthetic for animals and humans.

Measured at the University of Athens, the natural anesthetic called 2-heptanone (2-H), is a natural compound that is present in many food items and is produced by some types of insects. Until now, it was not believed to carry anesthetic benefits. Experiments have confirmed the discovery made by Vita regarding 2-H’s human medical purposes.

The compound has already been patented by Vita to be used as a local anesthetic; they are looking to pharmaceutical companies to further continue the development of 2-H.

Previous research demonstrated that 2-H was one of two things; an alarm pheromone which prompts defense mechanisms, or a chemical marker which lets other bees know that a flower had already been visited by another bee. According to Vita, this is not the case, and their new theory conflicts with prior trials.

Vita’s evidence demonstrates that 2-H renders small insects and mites paralyzed for anywhere up to 9 minutes when they receive a bite from the honeybees. Similar to snake bites, bees sink their mandibles into their opponents and proceed to emit H-2 into the lesion in order to numb the targeted area.

After doing this, the honeybees are able to throw the invader from the bee hive, which is effective protection against their main enemies, wax moth larvae and varroa mites, because these pests are too tiny to sting.

Technical Director from Vita (Europe) Ltd., Dr. Max Watkins, commented:

“We are very excited about our findings on at least two levels. Firstly, the revelation that honeybees can bite enemies that they cannot sting confounds some existing ideas and adds significantly to our biological knowledge. Secondly, the discovery of a highly effective natural anesthetic with huge potential will be of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry eager to develop better local anesthetics.”

Researchers from the School of Biology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece have conducted studies which have determined that 2-H works similar to Lidocaine, the main local anesthetic used on humans.

Many foods contain 2-heptanone, such as white bread and beer, and it is completely safe according to USA regulatory authorities who have approved 2-H as a food additive. Because of this, H-2 is a smart substitute for Lidocaine. New research on mammal cells in the U.S. had verified Vita’s predictions that H-2 can be used as a successful anesthetic for humans, not just bugs and mites.

Vita expert working with Professor G Theophilidis in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, Dr. Alexandros Papachistoforou commented:

“It is amazing that this second line of honeybee defense has gone undetected for so long. Beekeepers will be very surprised by our discovery and it is likely to cause a radical rethink of some long-held beliefs. It will probably stimulate honeybee research in many new directions. For instance, many beekeepers have spoken of the ‘grooming’ behavior of honeybees in helping to control varroa populations. This grooming behavior can now be interpreted as biting behavior.”

The doctor concluded: “We were investigating wax moth control. Wax moths are a serious honeybee pest whose larvae consume wax and pollen, often completely destroying honeycomb. When exposed to 2-heptanone, which is produced naturally by honeybees, the wax moths appeared to die. However, on closer inspection, we realized that the wax moths were merely anesthetized for a period of one to nine minutes. This was quite unexpected, so our scientific team set up a series of rigorous experiments to find out what was really happening and came up with our remarkable discovery.”

Honeybees are medically useful in other ways as well. A study published in July of this year said that researchers discovered a link between sugar sensitivity and metabolic disorders by studying the genetics of the bees.

Written by Christine Kearney