US approves world’s first vaccine for honeybees: Why is it needed?


The US Department of Agriculture has granted a conditional licence for a vaccine that will protect honeybees from American foulbrood disease. The population of honeybees – which are among the pollinators responsible for a third of the world’s crop production – has been on the decline in the country

The US government has given nod to the world’s first vaccine for honeybees, taking a step forward in protecting these pollinators which play a significant role in food production.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved a conditional licence for a vaccine developed by US biotech company, Dalan Animal Health, to defend honeybees from American foulbrood disease.

“Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees,” Annette Kleiser, chief executive of Dalan Animal Health, said, as per The Guardian. “We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale.”

What is American foulbrood disease and how the vaccine would protect honeybees? Why are honeybees important and is their population declining? Let’s understand.

American foulbrood disease

Caused by bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, American foulbrood (AFB) is an infectious, bacterial disease that weakens and kills honeybee colonies, as per the Agriculture Victoria website.

There is no cure for this disease. Thus, the only way to deal with the menace is to burn the colony of infected bees and their hives, while the nearby colonies have to be treated with antibiotics, noted BBC.

The disease has been reported in a quarter of hives in many parts of the US.

“It’s something that beekeepers can easily recognize because it reduces the larvae to this brown goo that has a rancid stink to it,” Keith Delaplane, an entomologist at the University of Georgia, told The Guardian.

AFB, which was first found in the US, has spread around the world, The Guardian report further said.

How will the vaccine work?

As per Dalan Animal Health, the vaccine has an inactive version of Paenibacillus larvae.

The vaccine, which will be available for commercial beekeepers initially, is administered by putting it in queen feed which is consumed by worker bees.

It is included in the royal jelly feed provided by worker bees to the queen bee, who then ingests the feed taking the fragments of the vaccine in her ovaries, the US biotech firm said.

Now exposed to the vaccine, the developing bee larvae have immunity when they hatch, which reduces the chances of fatality from the illness.

“In a perfect scenario, the queens could be fed a cocktail within a queen candy – the soft, pasty sugar that queen bees eat while in transit,” Delaplane told The Guardian. “Queen breeders could advertise ‘fully vaccinated queens.’”

California State Beekeepers Association board member Trevor Tauzer said in a statement that the new vaccine can be an “exciting step forward for beekeepers”.

“If we can prevent an infection in our hives, we can avoid costly treatments and focus our energy on other important elements of keeping our bees healthy,” he said, as per BBC.

Importance of bees

According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, about one-third of the world’s crop production depends on pollinators such as bees, birds and bats.

“One out of every three bites of food that we eat” is directly linked to a pollinator, Ron Magill, a wildlife expert at Zoo Miami, told CNN.

As per the Food and Drug Administration, bees are responsible for pollinating nearly 90 commercially produced crops.

The pollinator decline will majorly affect the production of apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli and almonds, as per US Food and Drug Administration.

Declining population

The US heavily relies on managed honeybee colonies for food pollination. However, the country has been witnessing a decline in honeybee colonies annually since 2006, as per the USDA.

As per a study conducted by Anthony Nearman and Dennis van Engelsdorp from the University of Maryland, the lifespan of the adult honeybee has apparently been reduced by nearly 50 per cent in the past 50 years, reported The Conversation.

In 2020, beekeepers in the US lost approximately 45.5 per cent of their managed honeybee colonies, according to a survey conducted by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership.

In the winter of 2016-17, beekeepers across the commonwealth had reported 52 per cent losses in their bee colonies.

Commercial beekeepers in the US had lost 90 per cent of their colonies in 2006.

What kills honeybees? 

According to the USDA, there are several factors that affect the honeybee population such as diseases, parasites such as Varroa mites and Nosema ceranae, use of pesticides as well as Colony Collapse Disorder – the phenomenon that occurs when most of the worker bees in a colony vanish, leaving the queen behind.

Climate change is also altering the bee population.

As per a study published in 2020 in the journal Science, the populations of bumblebee in North America and Europe plunged due to extreme temperatures.

This happened as the prevalence of bee-killing parasites augments in warmer climates.

But, all is not lost.

We can do our bit to prevent the bee population from plummeting.

“Planting flowers or even allowing patches of weeds and native plants to grow can help bolster bee populations and combat habitat loss” Marten Edwards, chair of Muhlenberg College’s biology department, told Associated Press. 

Planting gardens with native wildlife can also help in sustaining the pollinators, experts say.

With inputs from agencies

This article originally appeared on and was reproduced here with permission


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