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Sustainability & Environment

Researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa have found a way to track pollen using quantum dots, developing a simple and cost-effective method for studying pollen distribution.

 bee and pollen

Tracking pollen can help scientists better understand pollinator behaviour.

Pollination and pollination services are key for productive farming. In fact, many farms actively manage pollination, bringing in bees or planting effective field margins.

 Fluorescent quantum dots on a bee

Fluorescent quantum dots on a bee show the distribution of the marked pollen. Image: Corneile Minnaar

Despite the importance of pollination, for many years research has been limited as there is no efficient way to study pollen distribution or track individual pollen grains.

Scientists at the university have developed an innovative method to track pollen using quantum dots.

Tracking pollen with quantum dots. Source: Stellenbosch University

Quantum dots are nanocrystals that emit bright fluorescent light when exposed to UV light. The quantum dots were equipped with lipophilic (fat-loving) ligands to allow them to stick to the fatty outer layer of pollen grains. The fluorescent colour of the quantum dots can then be used to track any pollen they have adhered to.