With bees in short supply, soap bubbles could assist with pollination, study finds

This photograph shows a chemically manufactured soap bubble on a campanula flower.

(CNN)If you want to keep enjoying apples, melons and blueberries, bees need to be healthy and cared for.

Many plants rely almost entirely on bees as natural pollinators to produce some of nature's most nutritious foods, but bee species have been significantly declining in recent decades.
That could be due to pesticides, parasites, competition with other insect species, climate change, plant loss and a mismatch between the plants available and those that bee species enjoy.
In a world without any or enough bees, it may be possible to pollinate fruit-bearing plants using soap bubbles, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal iScience.
The loss of bees is a "worldwide crisis," said study coauthor Eijiro Miyako, an associate professor in the School of Materials Science at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
"Besides, conventional pollinations like hand pollination are very tough work and annoying for farmers," Miyako said. "They really want a convenient automatic pollination method. They are [the] main reasons why we need to make new artificial pollination."
Machine sprayers reduce human labor and reliance on insects, but have been more expensive and wasteful of pollen grains when they miss the flowers, the study said.
Robotic pollination has become more attractive to researchers since robotic pollinators can detect individual flowers, operate autonomously and be programmed, the study said.
In 2017, Miyako and his colleagues published a study in which they used a tiny drone to pollinate blossoming flowers. Although the drone was only two centimeters in diameter, it destroyed the flowers as it bumped into them because it lacked an autonomous controlling system, Miyako said.
So began the search for another method. While blowing bubbles with his son at a park, Miyako had an epiphany: If the soap bubbles didn't do any damage when they hit his son's face, maybe the bubbles would be soft, light and flexible enough to pollinate flowers without harming them. He confirmed that suspicion with an optical microscopy at his lab.
"It sounds somewhat fantasy, but the soap bubble is effective for pollination," Miyako said.