Developing the BEESOCOSM - a modular, multi-species bee cage for laboratory experiments (NEC05913)

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Biodiversity (Wallingford)


Testing the impact of chemicals on pollinators in a laboratory is a key step to understand the impacts they may have in the environment. Currently standard toxicity testing on bees is limited to the honey bee, although there have been calls for more routine tests in other species. Standardised tests suggest that test cages to hold groups of bees are "easy to clean [and] well ventilated" and that that the size is "appropriate to the number of bees". One problem is that there is currently no stipulation for the type of cage that experiments are performed in and there is no commercially available product that delivers this. In a series of workshops held by COLOSS (an international research network composed of >300 partners from >60 countries) it was determined that an improved method for maintaining honey bees in cages was required. In addition there is a widening recognition that experiments should be longer than the standard 48 hours to better mimic the real world. It is important that bees are tested fairly under similar conditions for results to be fully comparable.

We have developed a prototype cage that is designed specifically to allow testing in multiple bee species and overcomes problems with handling and stress. The funding will allow us to refine our prototype cage design and evaluate its efficacy in simple trials to provide proof of commerciality. We will capture the design specification and produce a detailed description of its components and potential uses. Following this we will explore the opportunities for patent and design registration using a patent attorney. Simultaneously we will explore the potential (in confidence) with a number of stakeholders, including other researchers, designer and regulatory/testing authorities. Both investigators have well developed contacts in these areas (e.g. in chemical and bio-pesticide registration). If feedback is positive we will have brief, preliminary discussions with a commercial designer to scope out the next steps for the project and develop a commercial business plan with consultants. These activities will provide us with the data and ideas to help develop a follow-on proposal.

Planned Impact

As researchers in the field we are currently unaware of any commercial product that is specifically designed for toxicity testing, not just for honey bees but that is adaptable to multiple bee species. Our initial design aims to reduce the potential for escape of test insects, reduce handling stress which in turn, reduces control mortality (an important indication that test insects have not been unduly stressed during an assay). In addition our design has the potential to extend the length of current statutory testing protocols from 48h to 240h exposures without increasing mortality of control animals. There is potential for the cage to become a simple, "off the shelf" option, for statutory and non-statutory testing in a range of species. This could remove a clear barrier to more widespread use (both in EU and other countries) and increase the likelihood of commercial adoption and uptake. The very fact that we had to invent the cage and used several iterations of design (over a number of months) to optimise the design for experiments, as well as the active discussion within researcher groups e.g. COLOSS (honey bee research association) suggests that no solution currently exists. The production of such a cage would have significant benefit for those stakeholders involved in producing data for registration studies. For example, Eurofins agroscience services conduct laboratory studies on a wide range of organisms, including honey bees and bumble bees, through an international network of 150 laboratories across 30 countries in Europe, the USA, Asia and South America. Their analytical services conduct more than 80 million assays per year of which a number will be acute and chronic tests on honey bees and bumble bees. Currently, laboratory honey bee tests have to be adapted for bumble bee tests to accommodate the biology of the bumble bees so a cage design that can be utilised for both species would be of great benefit and interest to these stakeholders. In addition, the current market for toxicity testing in bees is likely to increase significantly in Europe as EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) seek to include other pollinator species in toxicity tests and the potential for our cage to be adaptable for different species will again be of significant benefit. Furthermore, the use of an "off the shelf" option will be very attractive to stakeholders due to the large numbers of individual tests performed in toxicity testing. Informal discussion with contacts in the field of pesticide registration suggest that for a single chemical, a company would perform approximately 50 acute toxicity tests per year for an active ingredient with replication/doses that result in 900 individual cages being utilised; this is for the active ingredient alone and if a formulated product is then developed, the same number of tests are required for the formulated chemical. This gives an indication of how valuable a simple, adaptable cage with reduced handling times and reduced stress to test insects could be for these key stakeholders and would be a starting point for developing a business case.


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Title Beesocosm: insect hoarding cage 
Description The present invention relates to an enclosure for insects such as pollinating insects including bees, and lepidoptera (e.g. moths and butterflies). More particularly, the invention 5 relates to an enclosure that can be used to contain live insects (e.g. bees, moths or butterflies) during laboratory tests, e.g. toxicity tests. The invention also relates to systems comprising one or more such enclosures. In addition, the invention relates to a feeder adapted for feeding insects such as bees or 10 moths, e.g. during laboratory tests such as toxicity tests. The invention further relates to the use of such enclosures, systems and feeders. 
IP Reference GB1700539.8 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact n/a
Description Ad hoc promotion activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact - Product highlighted in brochure/strategy documents for CEH
- Licensing opportunity highlighted on CEH website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018