Bees and Computers

Bees and Computers

In 2007 a computer ‘solved’ checkers by going through every possible move to determine the optimal game.  By comparison, the number of possible moves in a chess game is staggering, more than the number of atoms in the universe, according to D.T. Max writing in the March 21, 2011, edition of The New Yorker.  And the number of atoms in the universe?  1080


Or consider that in a game of Texas hold’em with nine players, there are more than 600 quintillion possible combinations of the 52 cards. A quintillion? 1018


Wow.  Consider then a bee hive.  There are approximately 70 000 cells in a fully drawn out, ten frame deep, with 60 000 bees together with  different varieties of pollen and nectar in different stages of dehydration.  And a queen who, if mated, may have in excess of 10 million sperm from as many as 20 drones, each of whom adds specific genetic attributes to the semen stored in the spermatheca.


Just as pieces on a chess board have their designated moves, so of course worker bees have their designated roles as they go through their six weeks of life in the summer. 


Add to this the fact that on September 15, 2009, the 50 millionth chemical was formally registered with whomever registers such things, and that a study by Maryann Frazier’s team at Penn State last year discovered in excess of 70 different chemicals in bee hives of which 46 were pesticides, including DDT!


These compounds come from sources such as industrial pollution, consumer goods like automobiles, agricultural chemicals, genetically engineered organisms and even chemicals that some beekeepers use to control mites.


When chemicals are evaluated for toxicity they are studied in isolation. When the breakdown products of chemicals interact they can synergize and become more toxic and more long lasting than the original chemical itself – sometimes  a thousand times more so, and that is no exaggeration. Thus a cocktail of small doses of several chemicals, each acting on its own, can combine to have significant biological effects that none of the chemicals would have on its own. 


Equally, in some instances, the products of one chemical can neutralize those of another, reducing toxicity.


Realistically, as Ross Conrad has made clear,  no chemical is going to be thoroughly tested for safety either to humans or insects before being marketed.  Consider that to test the synergistic actions of just 1 000 toxic chemicals in combinations of five chemicals each would involve testing over eight trillion chemicals.  At one million per year it would take 8 000 years to complete such a study. 


Yet we market hundreds of new chemicals every year and honey bees have the potential to come into contact with thousands of man-made chemicals every day.   How on earth did this happen?  How did we create a world so toxic that it’s natural capacity for self-renewal has been threatened?


Cells, workers, drones, queens, sperm, pollen., nectar, chemicals … no wonder that two colonies are never the same.


In the same New Yorker article, Max writes that “A computer never makes a mistake in a chess game with six or fewer pieces on the board.”  If a colony could exist with only six bees it might be more predictable. 




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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my