Environment

Japanese scientists successfully fertilise trees using bubbles

The researchers successfully fertilised pear trees using bubbles, which may be used as an alternative approach to pollination.

Japanese scientists have succeeded in fertilising pear trees using pollen carried on the thin film of a soap bubble.

Fired from a bubble gun, the soapy spheres achieved a success rate of 95%.

Scientists have been increasingly testing robots and drones as pollination methods but the equipment can be costly and often bumps into the flowers and damages them.

A contrasting Japanese study suggests that firing off a few rounds from a bubble gun provides a safe, effective and relatively cheap process.

Japanese researchers found that soap bubbles were able to successfully pollinate a pear orchard by delivering pollen grains to targeted flowers.

This highly unlikely technique could be crucial in pollination methods due to the decline in the number of bees worldwide.

The study, published in the journal iScience, suggests that soap bubbles may present a low-tech complement to robotic pollination technology.

The successful fertilisation of pear trees could be crucial in pollination methods due to the decline in the number of bees worldwide. (Eijiro Miyako)

Eijiro Miyako, of Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Nomi, Japan, said: “It sounds somewhat like fantasy, but the functional soap bubble allows effective pollination and assures that the quality of fruits is the same as with conventional hand pollination.

“In comparison with other types of remote pollination, functional soap bubbles have innovative potentiality and unique properties, such as effective and convenient delivery of pollen grains to targeted flowers and high flexibility to avoid damaging them.”

Dr Mikayo previously carried out a study using a tiny toy drone to pollinate blossoming flowers, but although the drone was only two centimetres long, the researchers struggled to prevent it from destroying the flowers as it bumped into them.

After spending a day at the park blowing bubbles with his son, when one of the bubbles collided against his son’s face, he found his inspiration.

In the tests, Dr Mikayo loaded the solution into a bubble gun and released pollen-loaded bubbles into a pear orchard, finding that the technique distributed about 2,000 pollen grains per bubble to the flowers they targeted, demonstrating the method’s success by producing fruit.

The researchers then loaded an autonomous, GPS-controlled drone with functionalised soap bubbles and shot soap bubbles at fake lilies – since flowers were no longer in bloom – from a height of two meters, hitting their targets at a 90 per cent success rate when the machine moved at a speed of two meters per second.

With this method, weather is key.

Raindrops could easily wash away pollen-bearing bubbles from flowers, while strong winds could blow them astray.

Even though this approach is very new, and it appears promising, more techniques are still needed to improve its precision, the researchers said.


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