The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the approval of the first-ever vaccine for honeybees to combat American foulbrood disease. This bacterial disease can be lethal for honeybee colonies, and the vaccine is expected to provide a critical tool for protecting and preserving these important pollinators.
On December 29, the USDA granted a conditional vaccine license to Diamond Animal Health, a manufacturer working in collaboration with Dalan Animal Health. This marks the first time the agency has approved a honeybee product for licensure.
Dalan Animal Health, the manufacturer of a vaccine for American foulbrood disease, stated in a January 4 release that the primary method for treating this disease has typically been the burning of infected bees and hives, as well as the use of antibiotics.
“Global population growth and changing climates will increase the importance of honeybee pollination to secure our food supply,” said Dalan’s CEO, Annette Kleiser, in the statement. “We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale.”
The honeybee vaccine works differently than traditional vaccines because it is not administered through injection. Instead, it is mixed into the “queen feed” that worker bees consume, which is then passed on to the queen bee through royal jelly. As the queen consumes the vaccine-infused royal jelly, “fragments of the vaccine are deposited in her ovaries,” according to Dalan. This allows the queen’s larvae to be born with immunity to the disease.
The vaccine will be available for purchase in the United States in 2023.
The new honeybee vaccine has the potential to greatly impact the U.S.’s food supply as honeybees are a crucial component of global food production.
These insects are responsible for pollinating nearly a third of all global crops, including a majority of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
In the U.S. alone, honeybees pollinate at least $17bn worth of crops each year. They are also essential for the pollination of 70 of the top 100 human food crops that provide nearly 90% of the world’s nutrition, according to Greenpeace.
In total, honeybees contribute an estimated $30bn a year to crops worldwide.
However, it is uncertain how the honeybee population may be impacted as a whole. While this breakthrough science has the potential to protect individual bees and colonies from certain dangers, it is not clear how it may affect the overall health and vitality of the population.