A new technique would help counter the decline of natural pollinators. It is inspired by the son of a Japanese researcher, it is soapy bubbles loaded with pollen grains that achieve a delicate and effective pollination.
Due to the increasing disappearance of bees due to climate change and pesticides, the Japanese researcher Eijiro Miyaro, from the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, came up with an innovative way to pollinate flowers a few years ago. He created a robotic insect, a kind of two-centimeter unmanned drone that artificially released pollen by colliding with petals. But that ended up destroying the flowers.
But Miyaro kept thinking of a more flower-friendly alternative that could do the pollination function without spoiling the plants. The idea came while he was playing with his son with some soap bubbles in the park near his house.
“A bubble accidentally hit my son's face, but he was not hurt. Everyone knows that this is normal because the bubbles are soft, light and flexible”, Mirayo details. This is how the inspiration for his new flower pollination technique was born and which is now published in the magazineiScience.
He immediately thought that the bubbles would not do any harm to the flowers either and wanted to check. "My son started crying because I used the soap solution. I had to buy him another toy to make him stop crying”Recalls the scientist.
At that time he realized that the bubbles would be an ideal material to fulfill the mission of releasing pollen grains, especially in fruit plants, and could complete the robotic pollination technology that he had started. He confirmed the phenomenon with light microscopy in his laboratory.
“It sounds like a fantasy, but the functional soap bubble allows effective pollination and ensures that the quality of the fruits is the same as with conventional hand pollination.”Says the author. The bubbles thus allow the effective and convenient delivery of pollen grains to specific flowers, which are not damaged thanks to the great flexibility of the pomp.
A solution to release pollen
The researcher and Xi Yang, co-author of the study, developed a chemical solution neutralizing a surfactant that allowed better germination and growth of pollen in each grain after being deposited on the flower and analyzing the most effective soap concentrations, since the conventional substance it could be too toxic.
After verifying its effectiveness, the scientists fired soap bubbles loaded with 2,000 pollen grains per bubble into a pear orchard where fruit was successfully grown. They then loaded a GPS-controlled autonomous drone with soap bubbles that launched fake lilies (since the flowers were no longer in bloom) from a height of two meters. They reached their targets by 90%.
“I am sure that this technology with soap bubbles will allow great advances and improvements compared to the previous microrobot pollination, especially in terms of automatic control of the robot and the functionalities of the material”, It indicates.
According to Miyako, this approach to pollination is promising because 90% of flowering plants depend on thepollinators, whose numbers are declining dramatically. The other options, like hand pollination, are very tough jobs for farmers.
However, artificial pollination has certain shortcomings in this case. With soap bubbles, the weather is key: raindrops can blow pollen-containing bubbles out of flowers, while high winds could blow them astray. Many bubbles do not reach their target, so more precision autonomous robotic pollination still needs to be developed.
Xi Yang and Eijiro Miyaro. "Soap Bubble Pollination"iScienceJune 17, 2020 Source: