New research, new hope in the fight against AFB
Larvae rotting in their cells, decimated bee population, and – worst of all – having to burn your beehive to the ground. No wonder beekeepers dread American Foulbrood Disease.
Despite the name, AFB occurs in beehives all over the world. Currently, the only treatment in New Zealand is to burn the hives to prevent the spread of infection. When you spend significant time, money, and energy caring for your bees, this is nothing short of heart breaking.
But there may be hope in the battle against AFB bacteria. As Meredith Swett Walker writes in Etymology Today, new research shows that there may be a way to prevent the bacteria wreaking havoc in your hives.
American Foulbrood Disease is caused by a bacterium called Paenicillus Larvae. Paenicillus spores are very difficult to destroy – they’re resistant to extreme environmental conditions like heat and cold, and can stay in a dormant state for up to 70 years before becoming active again. This makes controlling the disease extremely difficult.
Outbreaks occur when spores reach the stomachs of honey bee larvae. These are the only conditions that cause them to germinate and reproduce. When they do, the larva will die within a couple of days.
Trialling new treatments
As Swett Walker’s article explains, new research from the University of Nevada has explored a potential treatment for AFB. The new treatment is based on preventing the spores from germinating, rather than treating the hive after an outbreak.
The research team, led by Israel Alvarado, Ph.D, knew that a specific molecule binding itself to a receptor on the outer layer of the spore was the trigger for germination. They looked at preventing germination by using an ‘antagonist’ molecule, which binds itself to the receptor without triggering the germination process, preventing the correct molecule from doing so.
So far, the research has found that a compound called 5-chloroindole was somewhat successful in preventing germination in the lab. Larvae that ingested the compound had better success in resisting AFB than those left untreated.
However, as Swett Walker goes on to explain, treating your hives with 5-chloroindole is a long way off. The preliminary research shows promise, but the team still needs to test their findings outside a lab, find a practical way to administer the compound to working hives, and make sure there are no unforeseen side effects.
Before the new treatment comes to New Zealand, it would need to be approved for use by the Ministry for Primary Industries – a process that could take months or years.
Even so, for beekeepers struggling with AFB and the spread of bacteria, the potential for a new, effective and less drastic treatment is a positive thing. We all want to prevent dead larvae and burnt hives.