What is Bee Propolis?
Honey may be the nectar of the gods, but bees produce many other products that are beneficial to humans. Ancient Romans used beeswax in candle making, illuminating the night. Royal jelly, the secretions worker bees feed to larvae and to adult queen bees, is used medicinally to alleviate the symptoms of asthma and hay fever. Even bee venom is said to help control inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Understanding the contributions bees make to human life and to the life of the planet, Kevin Symczak ’16, a chemistry major, analyzed the components of bee propolis samples from around the world, in search of information about their geographically distinct composition. Symczak believes this expanded understanding of bee propolis can result in a large-scale expansion of its use to include pharmaceuticals as well as cosmetic products. Mentored by Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Elmer-Rico Mojica, Symczak was one of only four graduating seniors to present his findings at the plenary session of the 2016 Society of Fellows Annual Meeting.
Bee propolis, a spackling compound and a medicine
Bee propolis is not the same as beeswax. Bees make propolis by collecting resin from pine trees and other conifers, and then mixing the resin with wax flakes and pollen to create a sticky paste. The paste is used to repair cracks and holes in the hive. Bee propolis has its own set of benefits. Since the time of pharaohs and Caesars, bee propolis has been used as medicine thanks to its anti-bacterial, anesthetic, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory qualities and myriad other beneficial properties.
“Medically speaking, due to the many biological properties that propolis contains, it can help heal wounds, fight infections, the common cold, and more,” says Symczak.
With the help of his mentor, Symczak acquired samples of the glue-like substance from Australia, California, Latvia, Pennsylvania, the Philippines, and Russia, and analyzed their composition using ion chromatography. Ion chromatography separates compounds in a mixture by mass. Symczak’s comparative analysis showed that bee propolis components differ according to geographic location, heavily contingent upon to the vegetation in the area.
A faculty-student partnership
The Society of Fellows nurtures exactly this level of in-depth faculty-student research, cultivating original thinkers who bring new ideas and new solutions to the world. Symczak explains, “I started working with Dr. Mojica in my junior year and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with than him. He helped me each step of the way, while also allowing me to follow my research and to think on my own about the project. When I encountered obstacles, we would brainstorm what the possible causes could be and some of his ideas enabled me to think more in depth and really use my skills to solve the issue at hand.”
“Kevin could have just done the research I asked him to do, but he went above and beyond,” says Mojica. “Charles Kendall Adams was a historian and the second president of Cornell University. I would use a quote from him to describe Kevin. ‘No student ever attains very eminent success by simply doing what is required of him; it is the amount and excellence of what is over and above the required that determines the greatness of ultimate distinction.’”
Currently, Symczak is a lab analyst in the metals department at SGS Accutest, an environmental testing company where he’s furthering his lab experience and getting a feel for the chemical industry.