Beekeepers could soon have a new option to protect their hives from a devastating disease: the first vaccine for the insects.
Earlier this month, the USDA granted conditional approval of a new product from Georgia-based biotech company Dalan Animal Health that targets a bacterial disease called American foulbrood.
“It’s not a vaccine in the traditional sense — immunity is created by treating the queen, which means no bees will be waiting in line for the vaccine,” said David Tarpey, professor and apiculture extension specialist at North Carolina State University.
We asked Tarpee to explain the science behind this new option and what it means for beekeepers.
What is important about USDA approval?
Tarpey: I believe this is the first registered product of its kind for insects because there are so few “certified” insects under the USDA veterinary umbrella. It’s based on a research paradigm first shown in cockroaches, then in other insects, and finally in honeybees, called intergenerational immune priming, or TGIP.
This is where a mother exposed to a pathogen somehow passes on immunity through her eggs so that her offspring are less susceptible to the same strain of the same disease. This is not a genetic manipulation or permanent change, although the exact mechanism of this maternal effect is unknown. Research funded and published by the company shows a moderate (30-50%) reduction in infection of inoculated larvae in a controlled laboratory environment. However, it is currently unclear how well this will translate into a real environment, but our understanding is that field trials are currently underway.
How do you vaccinate honey bees?
Tarpey: Beekeepers mix the product—essentially dead cells of the disease-causing bacteria—with “queen candy,” a sort of fondant cake that beekeepers can feed to colonies because a large part of their diet is sugar. Workers then feed the queen, which in turn prepares the eggs she lays for this priming of intergenerational immunity.
What is causing America’s disorder? What happens to infected hives? Where does this disease get its name?
Tarpi: It is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Panibacillus larvae. It is widely recognized as the most harmful pathogen of honey bee colonies because it is highly contagious and destructive. It gets its name from the original sign because the dead larvae decompose and create a very strong odor – like dirty gym socks stored in a Ziploc bag in your truck on a hot summer day.
Can this approach be used for other honey bee threats?
Tarpee: That’s hope. With the production of this current product, the company has another bacterial pathogen of bees (European fullbred) and a fungal pathogen (chalkbrood) in its pipeline. I am particularly hopeful that this approach will be used for the many viral pathogens that honey bees encounter, but since they are so different from bacterial pathogens – and the insect immune system responds to them differently – before This may require further research. A useful application
How can commercial beekeepers benefit from vaccines?
Tarpey: Beekeepers will benefit in several ways. First, they will be less dependent on antibiotics to reduce disease, which will further reduce antibiotic-resistant strains and honey contamination. Second, since antibiotics only prevent the bacteria from sporulating – not killing the spores, just preventing them from becoming infected – the only real way to eradicate the disease is to kill the bees and burn the hive equipment, which results in huge economic losses. beekeeper
What is the main role of honey bees in pollination of plants? How many of our food products and fibers require bees or other pollinators?
Tarpey: Honeybees are the primary insect pollinators of about 100 different crops in the United States, contributing to increased yields and billions of dollars in economic productivity. Without honeybees and other pollinators, we wouldn’t have nearly a third of what we eat every day, especially all the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that make up a healthy diet.
How big of a problem is American Fowlbrood in North Carolina?
Tarpey: Because the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services bee inspection service does such a good job of keeping North Carolina’s bee population healthy, the number of colonies with detectable American insects is less than 1%. However, this is not uncommon, as disease outbreaks can be devastating to the beekeeper and are easily transmitted within and between operations.
How to monitor bee threats including diseases?
There are six full-time apiary inspectors throughout North Carolina, which is the envy of most other state departments of agriculture. They routinely visit beekeeping operations to check them for disease symptoms and other stressors to advise the beekeeper on control options.
What other threats do honey bees and other pollinators face in our state?
Tarpey: In honey bees, we have three basic problems:
- Parasites and pathogens, especially the parasitic mite Varroa destructor and the many viral pathogens it spreads.
- Nutritional stress is mainly caused by habitat loss and lack of forage for nectar and pollen.
- Pesticides, especially insecticides designed to kill pest insects that have adverse effects on beneficial insects such as honey bees.
When it comes to managed honey bees, the overall goal is to make beekeeping sustainable and reduce the high level of colony mortality we see each year, on average around 40%. However, for other pollinators, the goal is habitat and landscape conservation, as most are solitary native bees and wildlife that are not actively managed by beekeepers.
Presented by North Carolina State University