The United States Department of Agriculture has approved the first-ever vaccine for honeybees to prevent American foulbrood disease, a fatal bacterial disease that can eradicate honeybee colonies, officials say.
The USDA told CNN that it issued a conditional vaccine license to Diamond Animal Health, the collaborating manufacturer for Dalan Animal Health, on December 29. The agency said that it was its “first licensure of a honeybee product.”
“We hope the availability of this product will aid in the prevention and/or treatment of the disease American Foulbrood in honeybees given their central role in American agriculture (e.g. pollination),” said the USDA in a statement shared over email.
The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service explains American foulbrood disease on its website as “one of the most widespread and the most destructive of the honey bee brood diseases.”
In a January 4 statement, Dalan Animal Health, which produced the vaccine, said that the main treatment approach for American foulbrood disease has been cremating bees and infected hives, in addition to antibiotic treatment.
The vaccine bolsters the bee’s immune system to identify harmful diseases early on in life, comparable to the way antibodies in the human body recognize diseases. When the queen bee ingests foulbrood bacteria, the vitellogenin protein binds with the pathogenic molecules, which are then introduced along in her eggs. The unstable baby bees’ immune systems then recognize the foulbrood bacteria as an invader, setting off an immune response that guards the bee from the disease.
The result is a vaccine against foulbrood the team is calling PrimeBEE. The technology is undergoing tests, so it is not yet commercially available. The team has also yet to decide if the vaccine will be delivered by feeding queen bees sugar patties or if they will send out queen bees that have already been innoculated against the disease.
Whatever the case, apiculturists are excited to have a new tool to fight foulbrood. Toni Burnham, president of the DC Beekeepers Alliance in Washington, D.C., tells Chapell acquiring foulbrood means a bee colony has to be eradicated. “It’s a death sentence,” she tells Chappell. “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.”
The team says that the new method could be used for other bee pathogens as well.
“We need to help honey bees, absolutely. Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale. Of course, the honeybees have many other problems as well: pesticides, habitat loss and so on, but diseases come hand in hand with these life-quality problems,” Freitak says in the press release. “If we can help honey bees to be healthier and if we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit.”
They’re out here vaccinating honeybees now ? pic.twitter.com/ScYRSa7Uja
— An0maly (@LegendaryEnergy) January 8, 2023