Honey bees have been found to have a natural way to immunize their newborns. And it implies no vaccine sting.
The immunization process is largely connected to a protein naturally found in the bees’ blood,
vitellogenin. Vitellogenin has long been a source of interest for scientists.
Now, scientists from the University of Helsinki, Arizona State University and the University of Jyvaskyla took a closer look at how it influences the life of a honey bee colony. Their research paper features in the PLOS Pathogens journal.
Vitellogenin is crucial to this natural immunization process. Honey bees are naturally ‘vaccinating’ their newborns through a complex system at the center of which lies, of course, the queen of the colony.
Food is the answer to the surprising immunization process. As the queen never leaves the colony, the worker bees are busily perusing in search for pollen and nectar. As they venture in the outside world, they are in contact with a variety of bacteria and pathogens that could spell fatal disease for their colonies.
Back in their hives, the honey bees busily create royal jelly. Royal jelly is a special nourishment dedicated to the queen. The pathogens, mixed in the royal jelly composition are devoured by the queen.
These are then pushed towards the fat body, which is a simile for an animal liver, after the nourishment is being digested. In the fat body, pathogens of different bacteria are linked to the protein vitellogenin and further transferred as nourishment for the developing eggs waiting to hatch in the hive.
The larvae are thus born with a boosted immune system, ready to face the diseases that the worker bees meet outside. The immunization cocktail comprising the pathogens and vitellogenin is a healthy, natural ‘vaccine’ for the newborn honey bees.
Gro Amdam, Professor at the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, explains:
“The process by which bees transfer immunity to their babies was a big mystery until now. What we found is that it’s as simple as eating. Our discovery was made possible because of 15 years of basic research on vitellogenin”.
This vital immunization cocktail stands as a revelation concerning the health of honey bee colonies. However, there are still a number of diseases and factors that are a constant threat to the health of the colonies.
To this extent the researchers plan to create their own immunization cocktails, including vitellogenin that could be inserted in the hives as the queen’s nourishment. Certainly, our helpful insect friends could use the help aimed to increase the survival rate of the honey bee population.
Statistically, the number of managed colonies in the U.S. has declined alarmingly since 1947. At the time, it amounted to over 6 million. Nowadays, there are only 2.5 million managed honey bee colonies in the U.S.
Photo Credits: honeyandbeauty.com