The United States Department of Agriculture has given the green light to a vaccine for honeybees that may prevent a highly infectious disease known as American foulbrood (AFB).
The vaccine, developed by Dalan Animal Health, “exposes the queen bees to inactive (i.e., ‘dead’) bacteria” by feeding worker bees who then transfer the vaccine to the queen. The queen then spreads the immunity to her larvae, explained Dalan Animal Health’s website.
AFB, caused by Paenibacillus larvae bacterium, is a significant contributor to the massive decline in the bee population, both nationally and worldwide.
“One-third of the global food supply relies on pollination, and healthy commercial hives are essential to secure high crop yields,” explained Dalan Animal Health in a press release.
As pollinators, bees play a vital role in sustaining American agriculture and feeding the nation. For the past decade, beekeepers have raised the alarm about the declining bee population.
According to Bee Informed, a nonprofit researching the declining bee population, Texas beekeepers lost 34% of all colonies in 2021 due to pesticides and viral and bacterial infections such as AFB.
“If we can prevent [AFB] infection in our hives, we can avoid costly treatments and focus our energy on other important elements of keeping our bees healthy,” explained Tauzer Apiaries owner Trevor Tauzer, board member of the California State Beekeepers Association, in a statement.
Prior to this vaccine, beekeepers relied on antibiotic treatment, which was ineffective and time-consuming. Moreover, AFB spreads rapidly, decimating a colony within three weeks of infection. Therefore, beekeepers needed to intervene early for antibiotics to be successful.
The highly infectious nature of AFB forced beekeepers to burn and bury all equipment and bees that came in contact with the bacteria. Beekeepers have to replace equipment and spend time and energy sanitizing themselves and the colony to prevent AFB’s occurrence.
Dalan Animal Health estimated that farmers and beekeepers lose $400 million in revenue annually due to AFB and other diseases.
The economic burden of bee colony loss ripples throughout the economy because beekeepers pass on the cost to farmers, who, in turn, raise food prices.
“Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees,” said Dr. Annette Kleiser, CEO of Dalan Animal Health. “We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale.”