Bacterial disease American foulbrood is fatal, routinely ravages colonies
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has granted a conditional license for a vaccine for honeybees to curb American foulbrood (AFB), a fatal bacterial disease for the insect, reported British daily The Guardian.
AFB is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, according to bee information website Bee Aware. Infected broods usually die at the pre-pupal or pupal stage.
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It is not a stress-related disease and can infect the strongest to the weakest colony in an apiary. Heavy infections can affect most of the brood, severely weakening the colony and eventually killing it.
The disease cannot be cured, meaning that the destruction of infected colonies and hives or irradiation of infected material is the only way to manage AFB.
The bacteria Melissococcus plutonius causes another similar disease, European foulbrood. However, the incidence of EFB is generally higher when the colony is under stress.
The first such vaccine, developed by biotechnology company Dalan Animal Health, gives hope of a new weapon against diseases that routinely ravage colonies relied upon for food pollination.
“Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees,” Annette Kleiser, chief executive of Dalan Animal Health, told The Guardian. “We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale.”
The vaccine technology exposes queen bees to inactive (ie, “dead”) bacteria, which enables the larvae hatched in the hive to resist infection, the company said on its website.
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The vaccine is mixed in queen candy — the primary food source for both the queen bees and the attendant bees living in cages.
Worker bees consume the vaccine with the queen candy, which is then digested and transferred to the glands that produce the royal jelly. Worker bees then feed the royal jelly containing the vaccine to the queen bee.
The queen digests the royal jelly and the vaccine is transferred to her ovaries. She is then released into the hive. The vaccine gets transferred to the developing eggs. The developing larvae get vaccinated and are more immune to infection as they hatch.
The immune priming showed no negative impact on queen fitness in tests, the company claimed. Tests also showed no negative impact on honey, it said.
“Our product is chemical free, non-GMO and organic,” the company said on its website. Vaccines for European foulbrood and Chalkbrood, a fungal disease, are in the pipeline by the company.
Honeybee populations are declining sharply, spurred by habitat loss, pesticide use and the climate crisis. Fewer honeybees mean not just less honey but also less food — honeybees are critical to pollinating up to 95 crops in the US.
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