Using Probiotics to Protect Honey Bees Against Fatal Disease

Science Daily Source: University of Western Ontario October 30, 2019

A group of researchers combined their expertise in probiotics and bee biology to supplement honey bee food with probiotics, in the form a BioPatty, in their experimental apiaries. The aim was to see what effect probiotics would have on honey bee health.

Probiotics, beneficial microorganisms best known for promoting gut health in humans, are now being used by Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute scientists to save honey bee colonies from collapse. A new study published in the Nature journal ISME J demonstrates how probiotics could potentially stave off a common bacterial hive infestation called American Foulbrood.

"Probiotics aren't just for humans," said Gregor Reid, PhD, Professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Endowed Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics at Lawson. "Our idea was that if you could use beneficial microbes to stimulate the immune response or attack the pathogens that are infecting the hives, then maybe we can help save the bees."

Honey bees are an important part of the cultural and economic landscape in Canada and globally because of their role in food production both through pollination of crops and through honey production. However, the world's bee population is being threatened by the spread of viruses and bacteria that infect the hives.

The team's previous work in a fruit-fly model suggested that the wide-use of pesticides reduces bees' immunity and their ability to fight back against these harmful pathogens.

With that in mind, a group of researchers at Western and Lawson combined their expertise in probiotics and bee biology to supplement honey bee food with probiotics, in the form a BioPatty, in their experimental apiaries. The aim was to see what effect probiotics would have on honey bee health.

During their experiment, the hives became inadvertently infected with American Foulbrood, a common hive disease produced by the bacteria P. larvae, which would typically cause the bees to die.

"Bee colonies are really interesting little microcosms of biology. There are lots of individuals bees, but they are all genetically related and they are living in a close confined space," said Graham Thompson, PhD, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Science at Western who studies the biology and social behaviour of bees. "They are all very susceptible to contagious disease and they are demographically disposed to outbreaks."

What they found was that in the bee hives treated with probiotics, the pathogen load was reduced by 99 per cent, and the survival-rate of the bees increased significantly. When they examined the bees in the lab, they also found that there was increased immunity against the bacteria that causes American Foulbrood in the bees treated with the probiotics.

"The results from our study demonstrated that probiotic supplementation could increase the expression of a gene called Defensin-1 -- a key antimicrobial peptide shown to play a pivotal role in honey bee defense against P. larvae infection," said Schulich Medicine & Dentistry PhD Candidate Brendan Daisley who was the lead author on the paper. "Alongside these findings, we also observed an increase in pathogen clearance and overall survival of honey bee larvae."

Another interesting observation was that the bees that were given the BioPatty, but no probiotic, were the most susceptible, even more so than bees that were given nothing at all. The research team says this suggests there may be a negative outcome to the common practise of supplementing bee colonies with extra food as it could stimulate the pathogens to proliferate.

"Long term we hope to add a viable, practical and available treatment alternative to chemicals and antibiotics that beekeepers can readily adopt into their bee-keeping habits to help prevent colony collapse," said Thompson.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Western OntarioNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Brendan A. Daisley, Andrew P. Pitek, John A. Chmiel, Kait F. Al, Anna M. Chernyshova, Kyrillos M. Faragalla, Jeremy P. Burton, Graham J. Thompson & Gregor Reid. Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees. ISME J, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41396-019-0541-6

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191030132715.htm

August Apiary Inspector Notes

August 13, 2019

Jaime Garza, County of San Diego | Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector

Dear Beekeeper, 

I hope your bee colonies were able to produce some surplus honey this year. I spoke to many beekeepers whose colonies produced a good amount of honey this year. 

As the season progresses into late summer/early fall you should consider the following for maintaining healthy bee colonies: 

  • Monitoring/managing Varroa mites: many beekeepers are beginning to monitor for Varroa mites at this time of year. Two sampling methods are the sugar shake or alcohol wash method. You do not want to have more than 3 mites per 100 bees sampled. You can see the Honey Bee Health videos on Varroa sampling methods - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgPfT9FQxLc. There is also a helpful Tool Guide on Varroa Management that you can reference for Varroa mite management techniques - https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/HBHC-Guide_Varroa_Interactive_7thEdition_June2018.pdf.

  • Monitoring for American foulbrood – if a colony appears weak or has died you will want to check for the highly contagious bacterial disease called American foulbrood – see link for more information https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/HBHC__AFB-EFB-Final-061119.pdf.

  • Provide water with landing sites for your bees – a bee colony is like other livestock or pet and needs water to drink and to cool off the hive. On very hot days one established bee colony can go through 1 gallon of water per day.

  • Provide adequate ventilation during hot days so bees can cool off.

  • Ant control – weed control, ant bait stations and moats surrounding hive stand legs are some ways beekeepers keep ants from invading their bee colonies.

  • Over-defensive honey bee colonies – honey bees displaying over-defensive characteristics should be requeened or euthanized. The longer an over-defensive colony remains in the environment allows the queen to spread their unwanted “mean” genetics through the drones that are produced in the colony which will go on to mate with other honey bee virgin queens in the environment which dilutes the gentle tempered honey bees. 

As always, feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns or if you would like to request a Hive health and Beekeeping Best Management Practices review at your apiary. 

Thank you,
Jaime Garza | County of San Diego | Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures | Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector | Phone: 858-614-7738 | Email: jaime.garza@sdcounty.ca.gov | Website: www.sdcountybees.org