Bernadett Szabo / Reuters
In the fight against bacterial diseases – one of the most serious threats facing pollinators – bees may soon be given an edible vaccine allies. That's the promise of researchers in Finland who say they made the first vaccine against insects to fight against bee populations.
The scientists are targeting one of the deadliest enemies of bees: American foulbrood or AFB, an infectious disease that can destroy beehives and spread at a catastrophic rate. The disease is often introduced by nurse bees and works by bacteria that feed on larvae – and then produce more spores to spread further.
The idea of a potential new weapon to combat AFB has caused quite a stir in the beekeeping scene over the claim of a vaccine – which remains in the test phase. The news comes three years after the same researchers were discovered in Entymology Today as a "key to vaccinating bees".
Scientists Dalial Freitak and Heli Salmela from the University of Helsinki say their new vaccine represents an annoying problem for researchers They are trying to save bees from disease. Because insect immune systems lack antibodies, they essentially lack the "memory" to fight disease.
Freitak says she and her colleagues were able to circumvent this restriction after realizing that Salmela's study of a protein called vitellogenin seemed to supplement her own work in which she found that insects were the bacteria Exposure to an increased effect could mediate immune response to their offspring.
From the University Press Release:
"When the queen bee eats something with pathogens, the signature molecules of the pathogen are bound by vitellogenin, and vitellogenin carries these signature molecules into the queen's eggs, where they act as inducers of future immune responses. "
" Now we have discovered the mechanism that shows that you can actually vaccinate them, "said Freitak in a press release. "You can transmit a signal from one generation to another."
The Finnish team calls their vaccine PrimeBEE, and it is said that it could be delivered to the queen over a sugar mass. In another plan, beekeepers would simply have to order an already vaccinated queen. While a website was created for this product, there is no pricing – or statement on when the vaccine might be commercially available.
The new vaccine is still undergoing safety testing, but could represent a breakthrough in protecting bees a critical link in the food chain. In the US, their pollination is crucial for many of the foods we eat, from apples and almonds to watermelons and zucchini.
When an American foulbrood infection sets in, every brood cell can harbor millions of millions of spores. And because of the bee bees' proper bee culture, these spores become even more common when the bees cleanse the cell. The disease can be treated with antibiotics, but healing is not possible.
"It's a death sentence" for a hive or colony diagnosed with the disease, says Toni Burnham, President of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance in Washington.
In DC and Maryland, Burnham says, "When a colony is diagnosed with AFB, it burns – regardless of the level of infestation – every piece of it burns, the bees are killed and the wooden utensils burn and it's gone."
Concern about the American Foulbrood is so serious, Burnham says, that this is the main reason why their group recommends never buying used beehives and other equipment.
"They pulled 100-year-old samples from the camp Honey bees could be reoccupied with American Fossbrood spores," she says.
In addition to AFB, honey bees and other pollinators are exposed to a number of existential threats, from diseases and parasites to insecticides. The researchers in Finland say that they plan to fight other diseases in the same way.
"We hope we can also vaccinate against other infections, such as European foulbrood and fungal diseases," Freitak said in a statement. "We have already started initial testing, and the plan is to vaccinate against every microbe."
If the vaccine works as expected by the Finnish team, this would be welcome good news for beekeepers, farmers and advocate pollinators who have seen one of the world's most important insect bats fight in recent decades.
"We absolutely have to help the honey bees," Freitak said. "Even a minor improvement in their lives would have a major impact on the global dimension."
While acknowledging the bees' other problems, she added, "If we can help honey bees to be healthier and save even a small part, I think we've done our good with the invention of the bee population and the World saved a little. "