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Honeybee vaccine approved

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As of Jan. 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted a conditional license for vaccination of honeybees against American foulbrood (AFB), a fatal bacterial disease caused by the spore forming bacterium Paenibacillus larve. The USDA has issued the conditional license in the first instance for two years.

While AFB is not a stress-related disease and can infect the strongest to the weakest colony in an apiary, infected brood usually die at the pre-pupal or pupal stage. With previously no safe and sustainable solution for disease prevention, the only way to manage AFB is through destruction of infected colonies and hives or irradiation of infected material. 

“This is an exciting step forward for beekeepers, as we rely on antibiotic treatment with limited effectiveness and requires lots of time and energy to apply to our hives,” explains Trevor Tauzer, owner of Tauzer Apiaries and board member of the California State Beekeepers Association in a Business Wire Jan. 4 article. “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.”

Administrating the vaccine 

According to Business Wire, the vaccine contains killed whole-cell Paenibacillus larve bacteria and is administered by mixing it into queen feed, which is consumed by worker bees. The vaccine is incorporated into the royal jelly by the worker bees, who then feed it to the queen. She ingests it and fragments of the vaccine are deposited in her ovaries. 

Having been exposed to the vaccine, the developing larvae have immunity as they hatch. The vaccine is a non-genetically modified organism and has been approved to be used in agriculture. 

The bacterin was developed by Dalan Animal Health and is manufactured by Diamond Animal Health of Des Moines, Iowa, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Heska, a corporation engaging in the provision of veterinary and animal health diagnostic and specialty products. 

“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. 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.

Dalan will distribute the vaccine on a limited basis to commercial beekeepers and anticipates having the vaccine available for purchase in the U.S. in 2023. 

Symptoms of AFB

AFB weakens the colony and only attacks larvae. The disease can quickly lead to death and is most commonly transmitted through spores of bacteria. 

According to a Penn State Extension article titled “Honey Bee Diseases: American Foulbrood,” when nurse bees feed larvae with food contaminated with spores, the spores turn into a vegetative stage which replicates in larval tissue and leads to death. Larvae killed by Paenibacillus larve have a unique foul order. 

Several symptoms include a spotty, irregular brood pattern; sunken, dark, greasy, perforated cappings – the pupal mass under cappings is brown and has a ropey consistency, which lasts three weeks after death; dark, hard scales difficult to be removed in the late stages, after about one month of infection; pupal tongue sticking up from the remains and a foul odor. 

Penn State Extension shares there are several diagnostic tests producers can utilize to test for AFB. They include a ropiness test, blacklight visualization, holst milk test or ordering a diagnostic test kit from a beekeeping supply company. 

In addition, brood and comb samples can be sent to the USDA Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. for analysis. 

Kleiser told The Times the company hopes to use the vaccine as a blueprint for other treatments to protect honeybees. 

“Bees are livestock and should have the same modern tools to care for them and protect them that we have for our chickens, cats, dogs and so on,” she said. “We’re really hoping we’re going to change the industry now.” 

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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