by Julie Fidler
If the world were to lose honey bees, it would be a crisis for
humanity unlike any we have ever seen.
The food supply would
shrink drastically, leaving large swaths of the Earth's population
to starve. Unfortunately, bees face numerous threats, and bacterial
diseases are among the direst of these threats (along with
Researchers in Finland
say they've created the first-ever vaccine for insects, and
it could help protect struggling honey bee populations.
In the researchers' crosshairs is a disease called American
one of the biggest
threats to honey bees. The
infectious disease can devastate hives and spread at warp speed.
The disease works by
bacteria feeding on larvae and then generating more spores that
assist the malady in spreading further.
News of the vaccine - still in the testing phase - has sparked both
excitement and skepticism among beekeepers. Three years ago, the
same researchers were recognized in Entomology Today for
discovering the "key to bee vaccination."
Disease can spread rapidly and quickly become devastating to honey
bee hives because insects' immune systems lack the antibodies
necessary for fighting diseases.
Freitak and Heli Salmela of the University of Helsinki
say they solved that conundrum after Salmela's study of a protein
vitellogenin seemed to
complement her own work, in which she found insects that were
exposed to bacteria were able to pass on an elevated immune response
to their offspring.
A University of Helsinki press release states:
"When the queen bee
eats something with pathogens in it, the pathogen signature
molecules are bound by vitellogenin.
carries these signature molecules into the queen's eggs, where
they work as inducers for future immune responses."
In a news release,
"Now we've discovered
the mechanism to show that you can actually vaccinate them. You
can transfer a signal from one generation to another."
The vaccine, dubbed
PrimeBEE by the Finnish team, can
be delivered to the queen via a sugar patty.
Another option is for
beekeepers to simply order a queen that has already been vaccinated.
Right now, PrimeBee has neither a price nor a date for when the
vaccine will become commercially available.
AFB is currently "a death sentence" for honey bees, according to
Toni Burnham, president of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance
She explained that,
"if a colony is
diagnosed with AFB - regardless of the level of the infestation
- it burns. Every bit of it burns; the bees are killed and the
woodenware burns, and it's gone."
AFB is such a looming
threat to bees that Burnham's group never recommends buying used
hives and other equipment.
"They have pulled
100-year-old samples out of storage and have been able to
reinoculate honey bee hives with American foulbrood spores."
PrimeBEE could be the tip
of the iceberg when it comes to fighting the diseases that threaten
Freitak said in a statement:
"We hope we can also
develop a vaccine against other infections, such as
European foulbrood and
fungal diseases. We have already started initial tests.
The plan is to be
able to vaccinate against any microbe."
Honey bees contribute
about $20 billion to U.S. crop production, as they pollinate a
variety of foods, including,
In fact, blueberries and
"90% dependent on
honey bee pollination," according to the American Beekeeping
The foundation added:
"One crop, almonds,
depends entirely on the honey bee for pollination at bloom
World's First Insect Vaccine Could
Help Bees Fight Off Deadly Disease
Fox News -
Scientists create Edible Honey Bee
Vaccine to Protect them from Deadly Diseases