New research on the anti-microbial activity of stingless bee honey and propolis

How do stingless bees protect their stored honey and pollen against unwanted microbes? And can the anti-microbial properties of stingless bee honey be harnessed to benefit human health?

A new research project at The University of Sydney aims to better understand the microbe-fighting potential of honey and propolis from Australian stingless bees. If you have fresh or stored samples of honey or propolis (50mL) and are interested to know whether your sam-ples show anti-microbial activity, you can contribute them to the project.

Honey produced by the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is well-known to have anti-microbial properties. These properties derive partly from enzymes and other compounds produced by the honey bees themselves, and partly – in the case of certain honey types, such as Manuka – from the chemistry of the plants on which the bees forage. Because of this ability of honey to protect against bacteria and other microbes, it has been used as a therapeutic for centuries to treat wound infections and other conditions.

But what about honey from Australian stingless bees?

A previous study [1] at The University of Sydney found evidence for high anti-microbial activity in the honey of Tetragonula carbonaria when tested against a common pathogen (Staphylococcus aureus). Indeed, activity was higher than that of a commercial Manuka honey control. The study also suggested a bee-derived origin of this activity, however this appeared distinct from honey bee honey as the activity was very stable during extended storage, whereas honey bee honey loses activity over time.

Further testing is now underway to improve our under-standing of how common pathogenic microbes, including various bacteria and fungi, respond to stingless bee honey. This new project will also extend on previous work to consider stingless bee propolis, and will test both honey and propolis from a greater diversity of species and locations.

If you are collecting honey for upcoming competitions, such as the native bee honey competition at the Brisbane Ekka in August, you might consider setting aside a little extra to contribute to the USYD study. You would later receive from USYD the results for each of your submitted honeys, including measures of the antimicrobial activity via phenol equivalence (the current honey bee industry standard), the activity against a panel of human pathogens, the total phenolics content and the antioxidant content. Samples can be sent either as clean filtered honey, or simply as fresh extractions (i.e. crushed honey and pollen pots all combined in the same container).
To ask about sending samples, contact: Ros Gloag,
References: [1] Irish et al. 2008. Antibacterial activity of honey from the Australian stingless bee Trigona carbonaria. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents 32:89-90.

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