In a breakthrough, US approves world’s first vaccine for honeybees

The vaccine will protect honeybees against American Foulbrood, the most destructive bee disease.
Deena Theresa
Bees on a honeycomb.
Bees on a honeycomb.

temmuzcan/iStock 

The world's first vaccine for honeybees has been approved for use in the U.S.

In what can be called a huge breakthrough to protect the insects essential for food production, Dalan Animal Health, Inc, a biotech company pioneering insect health, announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted a conditional license for the vaccination of honeybees against American Foulbrood disease caused by Paenibacillus larvae.

“This is an exciting step forward for beekeepers, as we rely on antibiotic treatment that has limited effectiveness and requires lots of time and energy to apply to our hives," Trevor Tauzer, owner of Tauzer Apiaries and board member of the California State Beekeepers Association, said in a statement.

"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."

A step towards protecting honeybees against the most destructive bee disease

Bees are a significant part of our biodiversity and a critical component of agriculture. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, approximately 33 percent of the food consumed by humans is dependent on honeybee pollination. Healthy commercial hives are important to secure high crop yields. 

However, honeybees are highly vulnerable to American Foulbrood, bee larvae affecting disease, known to be the most destructive of all bee diseases in 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, which has partnered with Dalan for the vaccine’s development, told The Guardian.

The sole treatment method, until now, lay in incinerating bees, infected hives, and equipment.

And so, a vaccine can be considered a largely sustainable step toward caring for bees.

Oral vaccination of honeybees may reduce larval death

"Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees. We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale," said Dr. Annette Kleiser, CEO of Dalan Animal Health. "We are committed to providing innovative solutions to protect our pollinators and promote sustainable agriculture. Global population growth and changing climates will increase the importance of honeybee pollination to secure our food supply."

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The vaccine contains whole-cell Paenibacillus larvae bacteria and is administered by mixing it into queen feed. This is then consumed by worker bees, who incorporate it into the royal jelly, which is then fed to the queen bee. 

The queen ingests it, and fragments of the vaccine are deposited in her ovaries. Now that they've been exposed to the vaccine, the developing larvae will have immunity as they hatch.

As per efficacy studies, oral vaccination of honeybees may reduce larval death associated with American Foulbrood infections caused by P. larvae.

The vaccine will be available to commercial beekeepers

The USDA has issued the conditional license in the first instance for two years. On a limited basis, Dalan will distribute the vaccine to commercial beekeepers and anticipates having the vaccine available for purchase in the United States in 2023.

The non-GMO vaccine can be used in organic agriculture.

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