Australian propolis could generate new homegrown health industry

Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) have made an exciting discovery that could lead to the development of a new health industry in Australia. They have identified 16 types of high-grade propolis, also known as “bee glue,” in honeybee hives across the country. Propolis is a sticky substance used by bees in constructing their hives, containing beeswax, bee saliva, and resin from plants they pollinate.

Traditionally, the Australian beekeeping industry discarded propolis as a nuisance product, while other countries like Brazil, China, and New Zealand have utilized it in multi-million-dollar food and cosmeceutical industries. However, UniSC’s research has revealed that the propolis from Australian honeybee hives contains abundant antioxidants and other beneficial chemical properties.

The researchers, led by Dr. Trong Tran and Dr. Peter Brooks, are thrilled by the potential of this finding. Previous collaborative research by these academics had already showcased the exceptional antibacterial activity in Australian manuka honey.

Beekeeper Murray Arkadieff, whose hives near Ipswich produced some of the most active propolis samples in the state, sees this discovery as an opportunity for Australian beekeepers to generate a new revenue stream and create more industry jobs. He believes it will also enhance the reputation of Australian honey and hive products both domestically and internationally.

The research, published in Scientific Reports, analyzed propolis samples from honeybees common across Australia. Dr. Tran highlighted that the 16 propolis samples had higher antioxidant activity than some well-known international types, which are currently generating substantial profits overseas. Propolis is already used in various products, including cosmetics, dietary supplements, toothpaste, mouth sprays, skincare creams, and even as a preservative in the food and beverage industry.

Propolis has a long history of use in different cultures as a natural antibiotic, and recent research indicates that it may have additional benefits beyond its antimicrobial properties. Some studies suggest its potential in adjunct treatments for cancer and even COVID-19.

The findings have encouraged researchers and co-authors from Hive and Wellness Australia, who see great potential for the beekeeping industry in Australia, which currently has 530,000 honeybee hives. Dr. Ben McKee, the Chief Operating Officer at Hive and Wellness, believes that domestic propolis harvesting can provide extra income for beekeepers and processors while reducing the reliance on imported propolis.

The UniSC team intends to further their research by tracing the plant sources of the propolis samples, which will contribute to plant biodiversity measures and hive locations. Dr. Tran emphasizes that Australia’s unique and diverse native flora could enable the country to produce exceptional and premium propolis varieties.

This research comes after an AgriFutures Australia report in 2019 recommended further exploration to enhance propolis production and market in Australia. The report revealed that New Zealand beekeepers were generating an average of $NZ3.75 million a year from propolis production.

Annelies McGaw, the Research Manager of AgriFutures Honey Bee & Pollination Program, believes that this discovery could strengthen the beekeeping industry, especially considering the recent challenges the sector has faced due to factors like bushfires, floods, and pest incursions.

Overall, this breakthrough in propolis research opens up exciting possibilities for a new homegrown health industry in Australia, potentially boosting the economy and providing much-needed support to the beekeeping community.

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