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Honeybees To Be Vaccinated Against Lethal Disease

A honeybee on lavender.
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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has granted a conditional license to Dalan allowing it to vaccinate honeybees against American Foulbrood disease (AFB), according to a press release from the company.

What is American Foulbrood disease?

AFB is a fatal bacterial disease that is caused by the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae. Affected bees typically die during the pre-pupal or pupal stage. When infections are severe, AFB can affect a large proportion of the hive’s brood, weakening entire colonies. Outbreaks can therefore have devastating effects on honeybee populations and lead to significant economic losses due to reduced productivity. As a cure does not yet exist, current management strategies involve antibiotic treatment, destroying colonies, hives and infected equipment.

Developing a vaccine for AFB

Dalan’s vaccine comprises whole-cell Paenibacillus larvae bacteria that is mixed into the feed of worker bees. These worker bees incorporate the vaccine into the “royal jelly”, which is then fed to the queen. When she ingests it, small fragments of the vaccine are deposited in her ovaries. Her subsequent larvae hatch and already carry immunity to AFB. A 2022 study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science found the vaccine safe and effective, providing a 50% increase in disease resistance in the queen honeybee’s offspring.

“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, says. “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.”

What a conditional license means

The USDA issues conditional licenses for biologics that can meet an emergency situation, local situation or special circumstance. In these instances, a product that has demonstrated safety and efficacy to a “reasonable expectation” can be licensed while further data on its efficacy and potency are still being gathered.

According to an earlier press release from Dalan, large-scale field efficacy pilot trials are underway, and the company aims to have the vaccine available in the US in 2023, before seeking approval in Canada and Europe. For now, the USDA has issued the conditional license for two years. Dalan plans to distribute it on a limited basis to commercial beekeepers, and says it “anticipates having the vaccine available for purchase in the United States in 2023”.