A colleague of mine recently pointed out a new scientific innovation: bee-free honey produced by a bacterium, bacillus subtilis (ISAAA, November 27, 2019). She thought of me because I’m an amateur beekeeper. I have two bee colonies at home that I get honey from every year, some of which I give away at work.
Guido Camps (36) is a vet and a postdoc in Human Nutrition. He likes baking, beekeeping and interesting animals.
The research team of students from a range of biotechnology disciplines has created a synthetic ‘honey stomach’ in which modified bacteria produce a ‘nectar-like solution using secreted enzymes that mimic the honey stomach environment’. Now in theory I’m all in favour of further scientific innovation and the pursuit of knowledge, and in that respect I think it’s a great project. But if you want to get any further than acquiring knowledge, you will need to define clearly what problem you are trying to solve. In this case, the researchers think their technology will help avoid ‘poor treatment of bees from bee farming and prevent the phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’.
To me, honey is the product of an extraordinary collaboration between humans and animals. I look after my bees and I do my best to give them a good life, and in exchange I take honey – which gets a unique flavour from all the plants around my home, and which is inextricably linked with my bees and my house. Honey is unusual because the location determines its flavour. Honey from Australia tastes of eucalyptus, autumn honey from the Veluwe tastes of heather, and spring honey from around Wageningen tastes of flowers. The bacteria project is a way of making a homogeneous syrup, but if you ask me that doesn’t make it bee-free honey.