Dr Mark Greco keeps some pretty colourful work company, from bees to David Attenborough himself.
The Charles Sturt medical radiation scientist’s work appears in the great documentary maker’s latest venture, Micro Monsters.
“I worked at the University of Bath for four years, the BBC contacted me because they heard that I was doing this micro-CT with insects,” he said.
Dr Greco has developed a way to understand the inner workings of bugs without needing to cut them up or kill them.
“I worked with the production team over a number of weeks, it was really a daily discussion on the sorts of images I could give them,” he said.
“David was always very friendly and helpful, it was a privilege to work with him.”
For the program, Dr Greco produced images of a caterpillar’s insides during metamorphosis.
“I particularly looked at the tracheal system and how that changed. What was surprising is it’s a really rapid expansion, it all happens within 24 hours,” he said.
“It’s incredible this really happens to an organism, it’s like virtual reality but it’s actual reality.”
The episode starring Greco’s images aired on ABC last Tuesday. Now, he’s using his micro-CT method to investigate the effect of pollutants on bees.
Preliminary findings show exposure to a combination of pyrethoids and neonicotinoids (the two main classes of pesticides used in agriculture) has a dramatic effect on bees, scrambling their nervous system and hindering their ability to find their way back to the hive.
"They get exhausted, get too cold and die in a field,” he said.
“When they come back they bring food, if thousands of bees aren’t doing that the colony will probably perish.”
With at least 70 per cent of our food coming from plants that rely on pollination, ensuring the health of our bees is vital, especially with threats like the Varroa Destructor mite spreading across the globe.
“If our honey bees disappear we’re in big trouble,” he said.
”We’d only really be able to eat fish, porridge and water. Our teeth would fall out, we’d survive but it would be a miserable existence and economically disastrous.”
The research may help limit the impact of spraying on the bee population.
“We have an opportunity to time our spraying better, maybe farmers could follow pesticide maps or announce spraying so beekeepers know to lock the hive up,” he said.
It also has the potential to aid in fine-tuning chemicals to target specific pests. A paper should be ready for publication in around 4-5 weeks.