Commercial beekeepers in the United States will soon have a vaccine that can save their hives from the most devastating disease facing bees today.
The drug was designed by biotechnology company Darran Animal Health to prevent American foulbrood (AFB), an epidemic caused by the spore-forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae.
The oral vaccine, incorporated into the food of the worker bees in the hive, is transformed into “royal jelly” and fed to the queen bee.
This pathogen is known to have a sole host, the bee larvae. Once a nest is infected, it is very difficult to eradicate. The only effective way to permanently kill the germs is to set the hive, tools, and the bees themselves on fire.
Unburnt spores can live for over 70 years, ready to infect the next colony they pass by. Unfortunately, the bacterium kills hives in as little as three weeks, leaving beekeepers little time to react.
In 2022, Darran sponsored a placebo-controlled trial to test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, with great success.
The tests confirmed that the drug not only protected worker and queen bees from dying from AFB disease, but also acted on the queen’s ovaries to immunize the next generation.
The US Department of Agriculture will grant a two-year conditional license for Darran’s bee vaccine, but it seems likely that the treatment will be widely available beyond that time.
Over the next two years, Darran plans to distribute the vaccine on a limited basis to beekeepers in the United States. After that, if all goes well, beekeepers may be able to obtain direct access to the vaccine.
“For beekeepers relying on antibiotic treatments, which are limited in efficacy and require a lot of time and energy to apply to hives,” said Trevor Tauzer, beekeeper and board member of the California Beekeepers Association. This is a welcome step forward,” he said.
If we can prevent hive infection, we can avoid costly treatments and focus our energies on other important things that keep our bees healthy.”
The worldwide decline in honey bee populations is a serious problem for modern society.
In the United States alone, factors such as intensive agricultural techniques, harmful pesticides, and climate change have led to a 90% decline in honeybee populations since 1962, leading to what has been described as a “global hay fever crisis.”
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