Honey and money

Bee venom that can be used for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and research into dementia, HIV and arthritis can now be easily and profitably harvested thanks to a University of Queensland student’s invention.

UQ Master of Biotechnology student James Watts and his team have invented a venom collector that is notably safer for bees than previous harvesting techniques, and can provide significant additional income for beekeepers.

“Research has suggested that beekeepers using existing venom collectors located on the inside of a hive can kill up to 60 per cent of bees in a colony,” Mr Watts said.

“This is due to stress-inducing alarm pheromones, which are volatile and can stay in the hives well past the time that the harvester has been used.

“His new invention, the Mk1 Bee Venom Collector, is low-impact and external to the hive, saving bees’ lives and making collection easier than ever.

“And, if you’re an amateur beekeeper, it’s also an amazing opportunity to make money,” he said.

“Bee venom can sell for more than $120 per gram, as it’s extremely valuable to cosmetics companies and researchers, and it only takes about an hour to get the venom from the hive.

“There are a lot of variables, with no guarantees, but if you have five hives in your backyard, you could be looking at additional income of up to $2000 per month.

“The device works by using a small pulsation, which the majority of bees do not sense, but a hypersensitive bee will notice the pulse and then sting a glass collection plate.

Mr Watts developed his invention after conducting research with small polypeptide amino acids in a UQ lab; soon realising he needed a steady source of them to further his research.

“We needed enough bee venom to get through our experiments,” he said.

“Thankfully, being beekeepers ourselves, it made sense to work with what we had, and over the last couple of years we’ve been working to create newer, better versions of the device.

“After using the venom for our own research purposes, in 2018 we sold our first creation – the Mk0.5 – realising that other beekeepers were interested in collecting their own venom.

“Mr Watts and his company Whale Labs are now hoping to use the power of crowdfunding, through an Indiegogo campaign, bringing their latest iteration to the rest of the world.

“The Mk1 has a unique design and is perfectly tuned to ensure the safety of bees, while also collecting a substantial quantity of venom,” he said.

“It’s opening up the industry for the common bee keeper to actually get into bee venom collection.”

“I’m thrilled to be helping people harvest venom, which might someday be used to help transform industry and medicine.”

This article was first published in R4A.

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