Biotechnology

new hope for American blight

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In recent years, there has been an ongoing movement to ‘save the bees’, and US biotechnology Dalan Animal Health is playing its part in doing just that, having created a vaccine for honey bees to protect them from their damaging and fatal effects. of American Foulbrood (AFB).

AFB is an infectious bacterial mother disease caused by spore-forming bacteria Paenibacillus larvae and is one of the most widespread and devastating bee diseases, wreaking havoc on beehives. Its name comes from the foul odor that the larvae emit when infected – a sign that beekeepers can easily recognize.

In the early stages of AFB, only a few dead larvae or pupae emerge, and they may develop to a critical stage quickly, or persist into the following year. Either way, the disease is highly contagious, with the tough spores of the bacteria able to remain viable for decades after infection, spreading easily between hives and apiaries.

Generally, transmission occurs due to certain beekeeping practices, such as through the exchange of equipment and the transfer of combs and broodstock from infected hives to healthy hives. Adult bees, unaffected by AFB, can also transmit the disease, via foraging – in which bees steal honey or nectar from an infected colony – or drifting – in which bees move from one hive to another.

And, this disease is not only fatal to honey bees, it is also disastrous for beekeepers; once a hive shows clinical signs of AFB, the beekeeper must burn and bury the hive, colony and all associated equipment deep in the ground. Lost annual revenue – due to AFB and other illnesses – is estimated at $400 million. The situation for beekeepers is therefore very precarious, especially considering that disease-causing bacteria are present in about 50% of commercial hives worldwide, and they can erupt at any time.

However, now there is new hope for the prevention of stink bugs – which have traditionally been treated using antibiotics – after the world’s first honey bee vaccine, developed by Dalan Animal Health, received a conditional license from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). earlier this year.

The world’s first honey bee vaccine: precautions

A vaccine for honeybees, or any insects for that matter, may seem a bit far-fetched – after all, it’s hard to imagine trying to inoculate lots of tiny critters – but, fortunately, there are no needles involved in the Dalan vaccine, and it just has to be done. given to the queen bee, making the administration process simpler and less time consuming than previously imagined.

Instead of being injected, it is administered orally, mixed into the royal jelly that the worker bees feed to the queen, after which pieces of the vaccine are deposited in the queen bee’s ovary. “The eggs were exposed to a vaccine, which works to induce a future immune response against the pathogen. This allows the offspring to have greater immunity to disease when they hatch,” explains Dalan.

Vaccines work via transgenerational immune priming, a biological mechanism in which the parent animal passes immune modulators, such as antigens and antimicrobial molecules, to the next generation of larvae before hatching. In this case, the vaccine contains dead intact cells P. larva bacteria.

According to the company, the technology behind the vaccine came from academic research conducted at the University of Helsinki in Finland, which at the time impressed Dalan’s chief executive (CEO), Annette Kleiser, who led her to partner with one of the researchers. Dalial Freitak, and create a company to bring a vaccine to market.

“I just got blown away. I said, ‘Someone has to do this.’ We all know that’s a big deal. Bees are dying, and while there are many reasons why they die, disease is a major factor. They are livestock, and we depend on them for our food. We won’t be discussing pesticides or monocultures anytime soon – that’s a policy decision – but we know vaccines work and this research shows that they appear to work in bees. This is something we can do now. We don’t have to wait 20 years,” Kleiser said.

In a landmark efficacy study, the vaccine was found to reduce AFB-associated larval mortality by 30 to 50%, which – although the number may not sound very high – is sufficient to stop disease manifestations in hives.

And perhaps one of the best parts about vaccines, especially when considering the broader environmental themes that pervade the movement to save bees, is that they are truly sustainable. Studies find that it has no negative impact on honey, plus is chemical-free, non-GMO, and organic.

Dalan will begin limited distribution of the vaccine to commercial beekeepers in the US in spring 2023, at which point beekeepers can request a quote and order product by visiting Dalan’s website.

Eliminates the need for antibiotics

Antibiotics have been used by beekeepers to treat and control AFB for decades. However, just like humans, heavy use of antibiotics also occurs consequence for honey bees, including antibiotic resistance and negative effects on the honey bee microbiome and overall health of the hive.

It is for this reason, in 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring veterinary prescriptions or feeding directions for the prophylactic use of antibiotics, largely leaving the industry without an effective solution to treat AFB.

This makes the Dalan vaccine even more significant, as it signifies a safer and more sustainable solution for treating AFB when compared to antibiotics, plus it can prevent outbreaks before they even occur.

In addition, eliminating the use of antibiotics is not only beneficial for the health of honeybees. “I also believe that eliminating the input of these antibiotics into natural systems should be a good thing for any other non-targeted species they may come into contact with. Finally, as a consumer, I try to avoid foods that contain antibiotics, so the fact that these products can be used in organic production is a good thing,” commented Clay Bolt, pollinator conservation manager for the World Wildlife Fund-US.

As Bolt alludes to with this comment, antibiotic-laden foods can affect our own health, meaning that antibiotic residues in honey, for example, can have a negative impact on consumers, because the natural biological attributes of honey can be altered.

Save the bees

Although the Dalan vaccine offers new hope in protecting honey bees from AFB, the species is susceptible to many stressors, including parasites, predators, pesticide poisoning, food loss due to fire and drought, and bacterial, fungal, or viral diseases, which are new discoveries. methods to protect them are quite challenging.

The same is true for wild bees, which are affected by habitat loss, change and fragmentation, pesticides, climate change, and various diseases.

However, as difficult as it may be to develop protection for bees, what becomes abundantly clear is protecting them is very important. After all, it’s no secret that bee populations are declining, but humans and many other species depend on bees, and other pollinators, to survive because they help pollinate about 75% of the world’s flowering plants, as well as about 35% of food crops, such as fruit- fruits and vegetables.

In fact, the US itself relies so heavily on managed honey bee colonies for food pollination that hives are routinely brought across the country to spread a wide variety of crops, from almonds to blueberries.

In addition, according to Bolt, protecting bees is not just about developing new treatments for bee diseases, we also need to look at the root causes of why bee populations are declining.

“There are numerous studies showing that Neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides are one of the greatest threats to North American bee populations, and I am not just referring to the domesticated western honey bee, but the estimated 4,000 species of bees native to North America as well,” said Bolt.

“Single, fluorescent coated corn seed contains enough of the active ingredient to kill about 80,000 bees and nearly all of the 90 million acres of corn in North America is grown from seed treated with this pesticide, whether farmers want to use the treatment or not. Neonics have been shown to weaken the immune system of honeybees, making them more susceptible to such diseases Nose fire and pests such as the Asian varroa mite. Unfortunately, the pesticide industry has done an excellent job of getting beekeepers to focus on fighting the mites, deliberately distracting from the root cause of the problem – their product.”

A recent research demonstrated that the impact of pesticides on bee populations, along with climate change, intensive farming techniques, land-use changes and nutrient pressures, has resulted in a 3 to 5% reduction in global fruit and vegetable production, as well as an estimated excess of 427,000 human deaths.

Bolt points to the Quebec model as a potential solution to this problem for use in the US, where manufacturers are required to provide justification for the use of neonics, meaning it would not put farmers in a difficult situation, but would discourage unnecessary use of neonics. .

As such, the Dalan vaccine is still a significant step in the right direction in the ongoing effort to try to protect bees, and may even pave the way for the development of other new vaccines to address a variety of known diseases. bubonic bee population.

“Our platform technology and vaccines are forging a new insect health sector, changing the way we care for honeybees. We are committed to providing innovative solutions to protect pollinators and promote sustainable agriculture. World population growth and climate change will increase the importance of honey bee pollination to secure our food supply,” said Dalan.

In fact, Dalan is also working on a vaccine to protect bees from European foulbrood (EFB), which is another serious bacterial disease, this time caused by Melissoccus pluton bacteria. Although less fatal than AFB, it is still highly contagious and is also showing signs of resistance to antibiotic treatment.

And the company’s vaccine platform doesn’t just provide hope for honey bees; they also want to develop vaccines for other organisms and diseases.

“This platform technology has the potential to affect many invertebrates, such as mealworms, shrimp and other insects. More research is needed, but we hope this can be expanded beyond just these diseases and organisms,” the company said.

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