BUSINESS is always buzzing for a leading but publicly little-known firm in Basingstoke – and the team were recently involved in making a fascinating discovery.

According to Vita, based at Vita House, in London Street, the bite of a bee contains a natural anaesthetic which has great potential for use in human medicine.

Dr Max Watkins, technical director at the leading dedicated supplier of honeybee health products to the honey and pollination industries, said the surprise findings were discovered by a team of researchers from Greek and French organisations working in collaboration with Vita.

He added the anaesthetic may also help honeybees to fend off pests such as the wax moth and the parasitic varroa mite, which pose a significant threat to the bee population.

Researchers discovered the unexpected properties of a natural compound called 2-heptanone (2-H) by chance when they were investigating wax moth control.

Dr Watkins said: “In text books, it says 2-H is produced by bees as an alarm pheromone, but we’ve found it is completely different. In fact, it does what a snake bite does. If wax moths enter a hive, the bees grab the moths and release the substance from their mandibles, knocking them out. They are paralysed long enough for the bees to pick them up and throw them out of the hive.”

“This has caused a complete re-thinking of honeybee defence mechanisms and could lead to the production of a natural, low toxicity local anaesthetic for humans and animals.”

“We are very excited about our findings,” added Dr Watkins, who said the revelation that honeybees can bite enemies adds significantly to biological knowledge about the insect that plays a vital role in the world’s agricultural economy.

On the medical front, laboratory trials found that 2-H has a similar mode of action to Lidocaine, which is the dominant local anaesthetic used as anaesthetic by dentists.

“It offers considerable potential as an alternative to Lidocaine,” said Dr Watkins. “It’s safer than Lidocaine because it’s a safer molecule as it’s got a very simple structure.”

Dr Watkins said Vita, set up 15 years ago in Brook House, has already patented the compound for use as a local anaesthetic and is seeking pharmaceutical partners to develop it.

While its head office is in Basingstoke, Vita also has offices in Italy, France and Russia, and partners across the globe.

The company researches, develops, and manufactures a range of honeybee health products, which are marketed internationally through a network of 60 distributors in 50 countries.

These include wax moth controls, diagnostic kits and health-promoting feeds.