Scientists have found out how queen bees protect the members of their colonies against diseases. It seems that they naturally immunize their colonies with vitellogenin which is a protein present in the bloodstream of bees that can prevent diseases. More details about the discovery can be found in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
Gro Amdam of the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University explained:
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 amazing discovery was made possible because of 15 years of basic research on vitellogenin. This exemplifies how long-term investments in basic research pay off.”
Since queen bees do not leave their nest very often the rest of the members of the colony must bring her food: royal jelly. Forager bees manufacture royal jelly using nectar and pollen. Being a raw material it is contaminated with bacteria. The microorganisms are stored in the fat body of the queen bee after she eats the royal jelly. We could say the fact body plays the role of a liver. Fragments of the bacteria reach the queen bee’s blood stream and thus her developing eggs as well. This provides the bees with protection against diseases.
This method of natural immunization could play an essential role in preventing devastating population losses among bees. It could help scientists develop methods of treating commercial beehives and help bees recover from colony collapse disorder. This is a phenomenon which involves the loss of large bee populations, leaving behind only the queen and a couple of nurse bees. This usually occurs in winter. Starting with 1947 the number of managed honeybee colonies has decreased from six million to only around two and a half million. Moreover the health of these valuable pollinators affects 35 percent of the crash crops in the world.
Now, knowing how genetic information passes from the exterior world through the queen bee and into the members of the colony, researchers could develop edible vaccine for the bees. Researcher Dalial Freitak from The University of Helsinki, explained that they are trying to find a way to create harmless vaccines and introduce them to the bee hives under the shape of cocktails which the insects would eat.
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