Honey as Medicine: Historical Perspectives

IBRA   Source: Journal of Apiculture Research - 2018

The use of honey as an internal and external health agent is much older than the history of medicine itself. In a new article published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, Andrzej Kuropatnickia and colleagues from the Pedagogical University of Krakow, Poland explore the history of the use of honey for medical purposes.

The earliest recorded medical prescription including honey is from Sumer. Honey was used as a remedy against a variety of illnesses in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome (see photo of a Roman honey jar from the IBRA / Eva Crane Historical Collection). There are frequent references to honey in sacred texts. Honey has a long tradition, not only in Western medicine but also in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. Honey was not commonly used by medical practitioners after the fall of the Roman Empire. In medieval times honey was not a popular subject of medical texts and very little was written on its use in that period. In the nineteenth century honey was neglected due to the development of modern synthetic medicine. Its comeback has, however, been observable as early as the beginnings of the twentieth century, and honey has been used again as a remedy for a variety of health problems and an excellent wound healer.

The article: “Honey as medicine: historical perspectives” can be found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/…/…/10.1080/00218839.2017.1411182

You can join IBRA here to to gain access to all papers in issue 57(1), and the entire back catalogue of the Journal of Apicultural Research to Issue 1 in 1962 and the entire back catalogue of Bee World to Issue 1 in 1919:http://www.ibrabee.org.uk/2013-05-01-02…/2014-12-12-12-06-01

IBRA is a Registered Charity No 209222. You can make a donation to help our work here: http://www.ibrabee.org.uk/ibra-donations

Antimicrobial Peptides: A Key Component of Honey Bee Innate Immunity

International Bee Research Association (IBRA) Facebook Post   January 19, 2016

Honey bees, in common with other insects, rely on a mixture of strategies to defend themselves against pathogens: - 

(1) physical barriers 
(2) immunity mediated by the cell 
(3) and non-cellular mediated humoral immunity 
This last is a complex network of pathways, which when triggered, activate a variety of humoral factors, including production of anti-microbial proteins (AMPs).

Honey bees have four main classes of AMPs and how they are activated and work is examined, along with molecular regulation of AMPs in this review paper.

For example, AMPs harm invading pathogens either by making their membranes leaky or impeding the manufacture of their proteins, thereby protecting the infected honey bee.

What’s new?
This is a review paper so pulls together many recent papers on the knowledge of bee immunity into a handy single report. This is an exciting area of bee research and the authors, including Journal of Apicultural Research’s Associate Editor Kate Aronstein, have attempted to discuss how AMPs are activated and how they help bees deal with pathogens, pesticides and other environmental stressors.

What difference does it make to me? 
Until recently, we knew comparatively little about bee immunity. Indeed, when researchers worked out the honey bee genome surprise was expressed about how few immunity genes bees possessed.

One interesting point they raise is that researchers have found that Varroa suppresses these defensive AMPs which leaves the bees less able to resist pathogens. Equally, Nosema and some viral infections may also suppress bee immune responses but these are complex relationships.

Much still needs to be understood and the full impact of using newer molecular techniques such RNA interference studies and proteinomics will hopefully reveal yet more understanding and (hopefully) help us discover solutions.

Find the paper here (sadly not free to view): http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00218839.2015.1109919
Free to subscribers of the Journal of Apicultural Research.

Varroa destructor on a developing bee. 
Photo Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS Bugwood.org

Read at: International Bee Research Association (IBRA) Facebook Post 

Nosema Ceranae

IBRA (International Bee Research Association) FB Post   December 12, 2015

Nosema ceranae is a single cell infection in honey bees. It was said to cause 20,000 colony losses in Salamanca, Spain.

Molecular biology techniques have been used to explore how the honey bee cell reacts to N. ceranae infection. A team of researchers from China and the US (including IBRA trustee Jay Evans) compared bees with and without an infection - and looked at what was going on inside the cell. They found 17 micro-RNA changes when a honey bee cell is infected with N. ceranae. Although we don't yet fully understand the picture, it is a start.

The science bit
DNA forms the blueprint or architect's plans for a cell; DNA holds all the information needed to make a fully functional cell.As need arises, those plans are carried in chunks of text (called messenger-RNA) over to the cellular processing centre so the "stuff that needs to be made" or the "something that needs to be done" will happen.

Micro-RNA binds (or sticks) to unused messenger-RNA so it will be broken down and the message it carries cannot be used. Simply put, microRNA is a "control switch." Micro-RNA controls many things including how cells grow and develop (developmental processes) and normal day to day functions (physiological processes).

So what?
Somehow N. ceranae infection changes the profile of micro-RNa control switches. This leads to a change in the gene-messages being used and ultimately changes what is going on in the cell. The researchers found several chemical pathways were affected - with faster trans-membrane transport and cell metabolism.

Why does it matter?
It may be the faster processes makes more resources available for the N.ceranae to reproduce in bee midgut epithelial cells. It may also explain why honey bees with Nosema need more sugar water to fuel a faster rate of metabolism. However there is much still to be learned about how these changes happen and whether this response takes place only for N.ceranae infections... or always happens when there is an infection.

How will this help beekeepers?
Well, it won't help us yet.. but it gives an insight to how an infection works in honey bees and by understanding that we might be able to work out how to control Nosema in the future.

Find out more about Nosemosis here

Find the free to view scientific paper here

Image: The photo comes from the article "Does Nosema ceranae cause Colony Collapse Disorder?" by Robert Paxton, published in the Journal of Apicultural Research in 2010:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3896/IBRA.…

COLOSS: Losses Of Honey Bee Colonies Over The 2014/15 Winter

Press Release from the COLOSS association.  Losses of honey bee colonies over the 2014/15 winter. Preliminary results from an international study.

The honey bee research association COLOSS has today announced the preliminary results of their international study of colony losses over the 2014-15 winter. Data were collected from 31 countries. Egypt, Russia and the Ukraine participated for the first time in this initiative, which is the largest and longest running international study of honey bee colony losses. In total 23,234 respondents provided overwintering mortality and other data of their colonies.

Collectively, all responding beekeepers managed 469,249 honey bee colonies. 67,914 of these colonies were dead after winter and an estimated 3 % of these colonies were lost because of unsolvable queen problems after winter. A preliminary analysis of the data shows that the mortality rate over the 2014-15 winter varied between countries, ranging from 5 % in Norway to 25 % in Austria, and there were also marked regional differences within most countries. The overall proportion of colonies lost (including colonies with unsolvable queen problems after winter) was estimated as 17.4 %, which was twice that of the previous winter.

The protocol used to collect this COLOSS data has been internationally standardized to allow comparisons and joint analysis of the data. A more detailed analysis of risk factors calculated from the whole dataset, as well as further colony loss data from other countries, will be published later in the year.

International Data Coordinator for the COLOSS Monitoring and Diagnosis Working Group Romée van der Zee from the Dutch Centre for Bee Research says: “North European countries have traditionally had lower losses, compared to west and central European countries. This can partly be explained by the later start of the breeding season of their honey bee colonies due to low temperatures in March/April, as was the case in 2014. This later start limits the number of brood cycles of the varroa mite, one of the main parasites of honey bees. However, honey bee colony loss is a multifactorial problem. There is clearly also a variation in losses between areas, which is not dependent on the varroa mite. One of the main aims of our network is to identify and describe such areas.”



Journal of Apicultural Research

The 2014 ISI Journal Impact Factors have now been published, and the Impact Factor of IBRA’s Journal of Apicultural Research has increased to 1.895, making the journal now ranked 16th out of 92 journals in the category “Entomology”, its highest ever ranking. The 5-Year Impact Factor has also increased to 1.942. The Journal of Apicultural Research is a refereed scientific journal dedicated to bringing the best research on bees. It publishes original research articles, original theoretical papers, notes, comments and authoritative reviews on scientific aspects of the biology, ecology, natural history, conservation and culture of all types of bee (superfamily Apoidea).Thanks to all of our authors, editors, referees, IBRA members and institutional subscribers for achieving this. Long may it continue!

Please note the new online submission system for Journal of Apicultural Research articles is available on 


IBRA: The Bee World Project

IBRA's The Bee World Project 

The International Bee Research Association (IBRA) was established in 1949 for the advancement of beekeeping science. It is unique and has the largest database of scientific information on bees and bee related interests in the world.

IBRA is internationally recognised as the world’s single source and foremost provider of information on bees. Its database and information services, including journals, teaching aides and publications, embrace not only familiar domesticated bee species managed by man for their beneficial products but also countless other bee species. All bees are integral members of the living environment, and as such play vital roles in the balance and maintenance of the world’s renewable natural resources and security of the world’s food supplies.

Bees, as the world’s most prolific plant pollinators, play a central role in the evolution, diversity, survival and success of the world’s flora upon which so many organisms rely. The world’s bees together constitute one major factor in assuring the future of the Earth’s vegetation and as such have a critical part to play in humankind’s endeavours to achieve sustainable development.

Visit Website: http://ibrabee.org.uk/ 
Visit The Bee World Project: http://www.ibrabeeworldproject.com/ibra/

Understanding Honey Bee Colony Losses

International Bee Research Association (IBRA)  Press Release [embargoed until 00:01 GMT on 26/2/14]  

Four papers published today in the Journal of Apicultural Research describe the results of 
surveys of beekeepers in 22 countries worldwide. Two present information on losses of honey 
bee colonies from the 2012-13 winter gathered from a total of more than 22,000 beekeepers 
together owning nearly 1 million colonies. 
The first paper1
reports colony losses from the USA for the 2012-13 winter. These losses were much higher than reported for the previous year (22.5%), but at approximately 30%, they are exactly average for losses since the recent surveys began in 2006-7. The difference between the last two years highlights the differences in the weather experienced. Amateur beekeepers tended to blame losses on factors which should be within their control, such as starvation, or weak colonies going into winter, whilst commercial beekeepers tended to blame factors outside their control such as pesticides and queen problems. The parasitic mite Varroa was a key factor reported, but the symptoms of “Colony Collapse Disorder” were low down the list of reported causes. 
Meanwhile, the second paper2
reports the results from standardised questionnaires developed by members of the COLOSS research association from 19 mainly European countries. For the first time, the authors have attempted to model the influence of various factors on the losses, with some striking results. Significant factors identified with colony losses were the age of queen bees in colonies going 
into winter, the treatment of varroa, and access by foraging honey bees to agricultural crops such as oilseed rape and maize. This could support the current concerns about pesticides widely used on these crops, but there is also growing evidence that the decline for bees in areas of intensive agriculture may be because mass flowering crops provide food for only part of the year in a landscape otherwise devoid of bee forage, and also that these crops may provide poor quality food for bees.
The third paper3
documents for the first time colony losses in Luxembourg from 2010-2012. Although a small country, 
the losses reported seem to fit in well with what is known of losses in neighbouring countries. 
Finally, in contrast to these results from the northern hemisphere, the last paper4
reports data from South Africa. Whilst these losses (29.6%) are comparable with those reported elsewhere, the causes seem to be different. The main cause reported by the South African beekeepers is the Cape honey bee, which acts as a social parasite in colonies of the more common savannah honey bee. The authors emphasise that the causes of colony loss experienced in the northern hemisphere, although present in South Africa, appear to be less threatening there, and uniquely African factors seem to be more significant. 
IBRA Science Director and JAR Senior Editor Norman Carreck says: “We are now eight years into the 
story of increased honey bee colony losses, and these new papers increase our confidence that we are beginning to understand the causes” 
International Bee Research Association -  
The world's longest established apicultural research publishers.
Norman Carreck, Science Director, IBRA 


Drought Hurt US Honey Production But in Britain a Cool, Wet Summer was the Problem

(The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal.) 11/7/12

Beekeepers throughout Britain are saying that this has been the worst summer for honey bees for decades, and that this will have continued effects for next year. The miserable summer has led to bee colonies having to be fed to prevent them from starvation, and they have produced little or no honey. In addition, the bad weather has prevented young queen bees from mating successfully, which will lead to failures next season. But this local problem draws attention to much deeper problems which affect bees worldwide.

IBRA Science Director Norman Carreck says: “This has been the worst year for honey bees in my experience. Beekeepers need to urgently check all their hives to ensure that they have sufficient food to take them through the winter. It will be an anxious winter, as only in the spring will it become evident whether colonies are headed by queens that have successfully mated”.

But bad weather is just one of the many problems facing the world’s bees. Honey bees face continuing problems with the parasitic varroa mite, which scientists worldwide agree is the most important single threat. It is also believed that other diseases may interact with the effects of certain pesticides. Other bee species, such as bumble bees and solitary bees also face difficulties, and perhaps the greatest underlying problem for all bee species is a lack of suitable food for them, mainly due to worldwide changes in land use. Bees need a continuous supply of both nectar and pollen in order to thrive, but many gardeners are, however, uncertain which plants are best for this.

IBRA’s new book “Plants for Bees” by William Kirk and Norman Howes will enable gardeners to make informed decisions about what to plant. This lavish book introduces the different bee species and their varying requirements, and then discusses each bee plant in turn, listing their value to bees, together with information on their flowering period and growth conditions. This book is essential for the gardener and anyone with an interest in nature conservation.

The book “Plants for Bees” is available, price £25, from the IBRA website:-

To subscribe to the American Bee Journal click here and choose digital or the printed version.