The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the world’s first-ever vaccine intended to address the global decline of honeybees. It will help protect honeybees from American foulbrood, a contagious bacterial disease which can destroy entire colonies.
According to preliminary research out of The University of Maryland and Auburn University, beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 39 percent of their managed honey bee colonizations from April 2021 to April 2022 due to disease.
Typically, honey producers and beekeepers rely on antibiotics to control diseases like American foulbrood. But these antibiotics have limited impact, failing to prevent the spread of disease in hives and often wiping out beneficial microbes in honeybees’ stomachs, according to Chris Hiatt, President of the American Honey Producers Association.
Dalan Animal Health, a biotech company based in Athens, Georgia, developed the vaccine by using killed whole-cell foulbrood bacteria and a transgenerational technology.
“The vaccine is incorporated into the royal jelly by the worker bees, who feed it to the queen. She ingests it, and fragments of the vaccine are deposited in her ovaries. Having been exposed to the vaccine, the developing larvae have immunity as they hatch,” A spokesperson for Dalan tells Food Tank.
The vaccine may help scientists alter their approach to animal health, providing new tools that improve resistance against diseases. According to a spokesperson for Dalan Animal Health, “[this] vaccine and platform technology is forging a new insect health sector, changing how we care for honeybees.”
According to Hiatt, the vaccine may not be the solution to all viruses impacting honeybees, but it is a strong indication of promise. “We’ll still have virus issues, but this is one step in the right direction,” he tells Food Tank.
Keith Delaplane, Professor of Entomology at University of Georgia, agrees the development of the vaccine is encouraging.
“It is not a silver bullet, but it is not only a new tool, it’s a new category of tool – a remedial vaccine,” Delaplane tells Food Tank. He believes the discovery of inherited immunity has the potential to alter scientific approaches to other infectious honeybee diseases, as well as other remedial products for cultured bumble bees, mealworms, and crickets.
According to Delplane, inherited immunity is a relatively new discovery in insects. He believes this technology could be applicable to many other infectious honeybee diseases, alongside other remedial products for cultured bumble bees, mealworms, and crickets.
As one of the planet’s most important pollinators, honeybees play a critical role in agriculture. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), bees and other pollinators including birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing the outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates bee pollination to account for around US$15 billion in added crop value.
“It is my firm belief that improving social conditions and human quality of life cannot ignore improving crop pollination in all parts of the world,” Delaplane tells Food Tank.
Dalan Animal Health plans to distribute the vaccine on a limited basis to commercial beekeepers and anticipates that the vaccine will become available for purchase in the United States this year.
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Photo Courtesy of Amy Floyd