Researchers use drone to pollinate a flower

Story highlights

  • Remote-controlled drone used to pollinate a flower
  • A special functions as 'glue' for pollination
  • Research inspired by global pollination crisis

(CNN)Researchers in Japan have successfully used a tiny drone to pollinate an actual flower, a task usually accomplished by insects and animals.

The remote-controlled drone was equipped with horsehairs coated with a special gel, which the researchers say was crucial to the process.
    "This is the world's first demonstration of pollination by an artificial robotic pollinator," said Eijiro Miyako of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Chem.
    The researchers have made a video showing the drone collecting pollen from a lily:

    A bee replacement?

    Pollination is a fundamental natural process that allows plants to reproduce.
    Pollen, which contains the plant's genetic material, must travel from the male part of a flower to the female part of another flower of the same species to achieve fertilization.
    Most commonly, this requires a pollinator -- an organism that will physically transfer the pollen between flowers. Several animals act as pollinators, including birds and bats, but the majority of them are insects.
    About 75 percent of the world's crops, including staples such as apples, chocolate, carrots and coffee, depend at least in part on pollination, according to a report released by the United Nations. The estimated value of food produced with the help of pollinators is between $235 billion and $577 billion a year.
    But many pollinators are under threat, particularly insects like bees and