Bees are immunised naturally!

The world would be much different if bees do not exist.

Bees play important role in our ecosystem and economy for pollination. Bees also produce honey, though for themselves, is used by humans as food.

Honey bees have a very fragile immune system. But how they cope up with this weak immune system is not clear.

Very recently a Finish research team from the University of Helsinki and the University of Jyväskylä, explained, in PLOS Pathogens, that queen honey bee passes a blood-protein to her eggs, called vitellogenin, which plays a critical role in immunity in bees. They claim that their discovery would open a new door to protect bee colonies against devastating pathogens from which they have no natural immunity.

In a honey bee colony, the queen bee relies on worker bees for food. The worker bees pick up pathogens when they gather pollen and nectar and make a “royal jelly” out of it. The queen eats it and digests the bacteria, present in the jelly. Fragments of digested bacteria eventually stored up in her “fat body” become attached to the blood protein vitellogenin, which is carried through her blood to the developing eggs. Thus the larvae, hatched from her eggs, are “vaccinated” against some of the environmental pathogens. However this process of natural vaccination only offers immunity against some, but not all, deadly pathogens.

Based on this study, the researchers are trying to patent a way to produce a harmless, edible vaccine, to protect them from numerous deadly diseases, like American Foul Brood.

Without bees, we would have a huge gap in our food supply. However they are in serious decline worldwide. Over last 60 years, managed bee colonies have fallen due to colony collapse disorder. Scientists are not sure about the exact cause, but they believe pesticides, pathogens and nutrition problems may be responsible. The researchers suggest that these findings could help to combat colony collapse disorder also.

They also suggest the findings could be extended to all species that lay eggs, including fish, poultry, amphibians and insects, as they also have vitellogenin.

This natural vaccination process would be cheap, simple to implement and would have the potential to both improve and secure food production.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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