Sci­en­tists work to save the bees

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Kati Po­h­jan­palo Bloomberg News

The first ed­i­ble vac­cine has been de­vel­oped to save at least some of the honey bee pop­u­la­tion.

A grow­ing num­ber of honey bees die each year due to pes­ti­cides, van­ish­ing habi­tats, poor nutri­tion and cli­mate change, with po­ten­tially dis­as­trous con­se­quences for agri­cul­ture and nat­u­ral di­ver­sity.

Now, sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Helsinki, hop­ing to save at least some of the pol­li­na­tors, have de­vel­oped the first ed­i­ble vac­cine against mi­cro­bial in­fec­tions.

“We might be right now at a tip­ping point, without even re­al­iz­ing it,” Dalial Fre­itak, the lead sci­en­tist on the project, said in an in­ter­view. “We’ve been tak­ing the pol­li­na­tion ser­vices for granted for so long. These in­sects are not there, they are dis­ap­pear­ing.”

The first vac­cine in­oc­u­lates bees against Amer­i­can foul­brood, a glob­ally spread dis­ease that can kill en­tire colonies and whose spores can re­main vi­able for more than 50 years. The tech­nol­ogy

may some­day be used to com­bat fun­gal dis­eases and other bac­te­rial in­fec­tions.

The vac­cine is ad­min­is­tered via an ed­i­ble sugar patty that is sus­pended in the hive for the queen to con­sume over seven to 10 days. After she in­gests the pathogens, she is able to spark an im­mune re­sponse in her off­spring, even­tu­ally gen­er­at­ing an in­oc­u­lated hive.

The vac­cine still needs a lot of work be­fore it can be­come com­mer­cially avail­able. Sci­en­tists must en­sure

it’s safe for the en­vi­ron­ment, the bees them­selves and hu­mans who con­sume the honey. Reg­u­la­tory hur­dles will take years to clear. It’s also too early to es­ti­mate how much bee­keep­ers will have to shell out to buy in­oc­u­lated hives, Fre­itak said.

While yields for pota­toes, rice, wheat, and other crops that don’t need pol­li­na­tion may also ben­e­fit from more bees, vi­ta­min-rich fruits such as ap­ples, toma­toes and cit­ruses won’t de­liver a crop without them, Fre­itak said.

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

An ed­i­ble vac­cine for Amer­i­can foul­brood, which can kill en­tire hives, has been de­vel­oped by sci­en­tists in Fin­land.

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