US approves world's first vaccine for honey bees
US has approved the first-ever vaccine for honey bees which will confer protection from the American foulbrood disease. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has permitted a conditional license for a vaccine, developed by Dalan Animal Health, a US-based biotech company. The vaccine will be supplied on a "limited basis" to commercial beekeepers in the US and is expected to be available this year.
Why does this story matter?
- Bees are considered important pollinators due to their effectiveness and availability.
- According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, bees, along with bats and birds, are responsible for about a third of the world's crop production.
- There are several factors, which include pesticides, diseases, and malnutrition that are leading to the decline of bees across the world.
At present, there is no cure for the foulbrood disease
American foulbrood (AFB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae that can weaken and kill honey bee colonies. Currently, there is no cure for this contagious disease. Beekeepers follow one treatment method and that is to destroy and burn the infected hives and administer antibiotics to the nearby colonies in order to curb the spread of the disease.
How will the vaccine work?
The vaccine, which contains an inactivated form of the causative bacteria, will be administered along with the royal jelly feed given by the worker bees to the queen bee. The developing bee larvae, being exposed to the vaccine, will have immunity to the foulbrood disease when they hatch. This will cut down the death rates associated with the disease, claims the company.
Honey bees have been declining at an alarming rate
According to the USDA, the US has witnessed annual reductions in honey bee colonies since 2006. Between April 2020 to April 2021, beekeepers in the US lost around 45% of their colonies, according to Auburn University's College of Agriculture.
The vaccine will be a "breakthrough" for protecting honey bees
"Global population growth and changing climates will increase the importance of honey bee pollination to secure our food supply," said Annette Kleiser, chief executive of Dalan Animal Health, in an official statement. "Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honey bees," she added. "We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale."
The American foulbrood disease originated in the US
American foulbrood, which originated in the US, has now spread across several parts of the world. The vaccine can help fight the spread and in the future, we may see more such vaccines for other bee-related diseases, such as the European version of foulbrood.