The US has seen annual reductions in honey bee colonies since 2006. According to the USDA, there are many factors that have contributed to the decline. These include parasites, pests, insecticides, disease, and a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder in which worker bees abandon a hive and leave behind the queen.
One of major threats to bee colonies is American foulbrood disease, which is a bacterial condition that attacks bee larvae. It is highly contagious and has no cure. Until now, the only treatment method required burning the colony of infected bees along with the hives and equipment and treating nearby bee colonies with antibiotics.
Recently, the USDA has approved a conditional license for the world’s first vaccine for honey bees. The vaccine contains inactive bacteria of the type that causes American foulbrood disease.
The vaccine is incorporated into the royal jelly fed by worker bees to the queen bee. The queen ingests the feed and keeps some of vaccine in her ovaries. This gives bee larvae immunity to the disease as they hatch and thereby reduces death from the illness.
According to the California State Beekeepers Association, the new vaccine could be a major breakthrough for protecting bees. Preventing the infection in hives could avoid costly, destructive measures and allow the beekeepers to focus on other important elements of keeping bees healthy.
Bees as pollinators play a critical role in many ecosystems. For humankind, pollinators such as bees, birds, and bats are responsible for about a third of the world’s crop production.
US approves world’s first vaccine for declining honey bees
Photo, posted June 6, 2022, courtesy of Bernd Thaller via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio