They can’t roll up their sleeves for a shot, but now honeybees can be vaccinated, too. On Oct. 16, American biotechnology company Dalan Animal Health announced that its honeybee vaccine has been conditionally licensed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
“This is the first bee vaccine licensed for distribution within Canada,” a spokesperson for the CFIA told CBC Kids News in an email.
The vaccine protects bees against American foulbrood disease, but a Canadian beekeeper said he hopes this vaccine will lead to solutions for other, more pressing, diseases.
What is American foulbrood?
American foulbrood is a bacterial disease that threatens broods (groups of young honeybees). Once infected with the bacteria, broods begin to decompose in the hive. CBC Kids News spoke to Jeremy Olthof, a beekeeper in Alberta and delegate on the Canadian Honey Council. He’s been a beekeeper since he was 16 years old.
“It’s really slimy and sticky … just gooey, gross,” Olthof said.
“Some people say it smells like fish.”
The bacteria reproduces by spreading units called spores. Olthof said he’s heard of American foulbrood spores surviving as long as 50 years. The only way to kill these spores is with fire or high-energy waves called radiation, so it’s very difficult to eliminate the bacteria once it spreads.
How do you vaccinate a bee?
The vaccine is made of dead American foulbrood bacteria. This weak form of the bacteria allows bees’ immune systems to practise recognizing the dangerous pathogens, protecting the bees from infection. Then, if the bees encounter live American foulbrood bacteria, their immune system knows how to fight it off.
The vaccine is combined with food and fed to the worker bees, who then feed the queen. The queen passes on her immunity to the eggs she lays, so the vaccine also protects hives’ broods. The condition of the approval is that the vaccine must be used under a veterinarian’s supervision.
Other risks remain
According to Olthof, there are more threats to honeybees in Canada beyond American foulbrood. They include another form of foulbrood, called European foulbrood. He also said viral infections, transmitted by parasites called varroa mites, have been the “number one problem” at his bee farm, Tees Bees Inc.
“It’s devastating to bees worldwide,” he said.
Bees are essential to many sectors of food production, so the decline in honeybees has caused the farming industry to suffer as well. Olthof said he hopes the American foulbrood vaccine could one day be used to help protect against viruses, too.
“If they can expand this technology to treat other diseases, it could be huge.”
Dalan Animal Health confirmed to CBC Kids News that it’s working on expanding its vaccine technology to include European foulbrood in the future.
Source: CBC News