RICHMOND—The rollout of a new vaccine is a pretty sweet deal for honeybees, plus the flora and crops they pollinate. Honeybees can now be protected against a common bacterial disease called American foulbrood, thanks to a vaccine recently introduced from Georgia-based Dalan Animal Health Inc. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Veterinary Biologics granted a conditional license for vaccination of honeybees against Paenibacillus larvae, a disease that weakens and kills colonies.
The vaccine is mixed in a “queen candy” paste, which is digested by worker bees. That substance is transferred to their glands that produce royal jelly, which is fed to the queen and transferred to her ovaries, making her larvae more immune to infection. Tests show no negative impact on queen fitness or honey quality. The vaccine will be available for purchase in the U.S. later this year.
One-third of the global food supply relies on pollination, and healthy commercial hives are essential for high crop yields.
“Global population growth and changing climates will increase the importance of honeybee pollination to secure our food supply,” said Dr. Annette Kleiser, CEO of Dalan Animal Health Inc. “Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees. We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale.”
American foulbrood is one of the most widespread and destructive of the honeybee brood diseases, according to the USDA.
But Virginia’s beekeepers have done their part to stop the spread of American foulbrood, said Keith Tignor, state apiarist with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“We rarely see this disease in Virginia,” he said. “Last year no incidence of AFB was reported. Preventive measures by beekeepers to reduce AFB spore exposure are working well in the state.”
Virginia Tech researchers say the condition is caused by bacterial spores that infect honeybee larvae up to three days old. AFB’s millions of spores can remain viable in honey and beekeeping equipment for over 40 years. Bees inadvertently spread the spores throughout the hive, and humans can transmit the disease by exposing a healthy colony to contaminated bees or equipment.
Before now, there was no safe and sustainable solution for AFB prevention.
“There is an abundance of interest in the vaccine and methodology for its development,” Tignor continued. “The methodology may be applicable to development of vaccines for other maladies such as European foulbrood and a number of viruses that are more prevalent in honeybee colonies.”