A vaccine for American Foulbrood? Really? Yes, really! We sit down with Dr. Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia as he explains why his honey bee research lab is involved in this project, how this vaccine works, when it will be ready, and what...
A vaccine for American Foulbrood? Really? Yes, really! We sit down with Dr. Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia as he explains why his honey bee research lab is involved in this project, how this vaccine works, when it will be ready, and what it will mean to beekeepers around the world.
The Dalan Animal Health Company, a private research firm, has figured out a way to deliver a queen honey bee the American Foulbrood bacterial extract, with the result that every egg she lays after that turns into an adult honey bee immune to this very nasty, expensive disease.
That was the first step. What Dalan needed was a good honey bee research team to take this information and find out how to get it to work in an everyday apiary. Dr. Delaplane’s lab was just the place. A great reputation for a wide range of research projects with skilled scientists, lots and lots of colonies to work with, and the University’s Veterinary school right on campus. It’s a great collaborative effort and it’s only the first step in developing vaccines for all kinds of honey bee maladies.
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Each profile has a guest photo, bio, contact information including Instagram and Twitter details if they have them. Check it out. Finally, share the podcast with your beekeeping friends. Email them links or mention it at your next beekeeper meeting. Hey, everybody, thanks again for joining today and I know you'll be happy you did. Today we're talking with Dr. Keith Delaplane from the University of Georgia. Keith has been involved in many different areas of honeybee biology and behavior research. In addition, he's the editor of the latest ABC XYZ of Beekeeping. We invited Keith to the podcast to talk about the work his team is doing to test the effectiveness of a new American Foulbrood vaccine.
The approval was expected at the time of our recording and was just granted a conditional approval this past week on January 4th. The news hit the beekeeping social medias going into the weekend. If you missed the news, it is big. American Foulbrood was a management concern in the bee yard before the arrival of varroa destructor. American Foulbrood can take out entire bee yards. The spores last for years in the ground and even on equipment up to 74 years in one experiment. Want to hear something really concerning? A larva that died of American Foulbrood and dried up in the cell is estimated to contain over 2.5 billion spores.
That's billion with a B. It can take as few as 10 spores to infect a bee larva that is only two days old or less. While there are several different possible treatments for American Foulbrood, the most common and recommended is the euthanization of the colony and burning of all of the bee equipment. That includes the boards, the boxes, the frames along with the wax, honey and dead bees. It's really that bad. American Foulbrood has not gone away and is still something you should be checking for in your inspections and as you autopsy your dead outs.
If American Foulbrood is only a bee disease topic you learned briefly in an intro to beekeeping course, you best go back over that material and research it on a site such as Honeybee Health Coalition or your state university's ag extension website. You do not want to ignore it. The news of the vaccine truly holds promise not only as a new tool to combat American Foulbrood, but the potential it holds as an approach for treating other bee diseases. Let's get to Kim's and my conversation with Keith, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
StrongMicrobials:Hey, beekeepers. Many times during the year, honeybees encounter scarcity of floral sources. As good beekeepers we feed our bees artificial diets of protein and carbohydrates to keep them going during those stressful times. What is missing though are key components. The good microbes necessary for a bee to digest the food and convert it into metabolic energy. Only Super DFM Honeybee by Strong Microbials can provide the necessary microbes to optimally convert the artificial diet into energy necessary for improving longevity, reproduction, immunity, and much more. Super DFM Honeybee is an all natural probiotic supplement for your honeybees. Find it at strongmicrobials.com or at fine bee supply stores everywhere.
Jeff:While you're at the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Dr. Keith Delaplane of the University of Georgia. I met Keith, he probably doesn't remember, but I met him first way back in 1993 at the American Beekeeping Federation meeting in Kansas City. I'm sure you can remember everything about 1993 and the American Beekeeping Federation meeting in Kansas City. [chuckles] Well, welcome to the show. I'm glad you're here.
Dr. Keith Delaplane:Thank you. Glad to be here.
Kim:Good to see you again, Keith. It's been a while.
Keith:It has been, Kim. You too.
Jeff:You guys worked together on the latest edition of the ABC XYZ of Beekeeping, correct?
Keith:That's right. The newest edition out and the biggest, and in my humble opinion the best.
Jeff:The biggest and bestest.
Kim:I have to agree with you there, Keith. I think you got that exactly right.
Keith:Well, good. It was a lot of work with a lot of people, but we got some really late information in there. We were basically the world's premier news on the new status of Nosema taxonomically and that's pretty exciting for a beekeeping encyclopedia to pull that off.
Jeff:Encyclopedias tend to go out of date real quick these days, and that's pretty cool that you were able to capture that.
Keith:Yes, it was, so very glad to be a part of that effort.
Jeff:Keith, we asked you to be on the show today. You've been involved in some of the research or you've been involved in a lot of research over the years, but recently on the latest updates on bee vaccinations, bee vaccines, and I think everybody is vaccine aware after the last couple years, but what is a bee vaccine?
Keith:Thanks. It's an exciting new development. It is taking advantage of some new discoveries in biology that we didn't really know as recently as 10 years ago. It's a real hot area of inherited immunity and this is new. Most of us have some working knowledge of how a vaccine works. We get a shot in the arm, it has a degraded version of the pathogen and it tricks our immune system into thinking it's the real thing and it ramps it up so that it'll attack it. If we're lucky, sometimes we'll get very long, even lifetime immunity.
I think most of our listeners had an experience like that with childhood vaccinations. That principle is attractive because it provides just a fantastic degree of disease control that's hard to match in any other remedy available to us. All of this with honeybees, of course, is in the context of varroa mites and all of the viruses that they spread. It's pretty common knowledge now that mites are more than just mites. They are mites plus a toxic stew of viruses and other pathogens, so a vaccine like this is a welcome new tool.
Jeff:What is an inherited vaccine?
Keith:It's a very different mode of operation. It's easy for us to understand how hard it is to inoculate an insect.
Jeff:They have very small upper arms to inject that into, isn't it?
Keith:Yes, and not only that, they don't really have an immune system like I just described where we get an injection, a mammal gets an injection, and our own immune system produces antibodies very specific to that antigen. Insects just simply do not have an immune system like that but they do have other forms of immunity, cellular responses, enzyme responses that fall short of an antibody like you and I have when we get vaccinated. That's the vaccine we're talking about here. In this case, the queen bee is fed a degraded form of the pathogen and literal physical particles of those bacteria end up in her eggs.
Her offspring are then born with an exposure to that very pathogen, which excites their own cellular immunity. It is literally passed from the mother into her ovaries, into her eggs and onto her offspring. That's pretty cool. There's actually evidence that workers can transmit it similarly to their sisters through brood food. It seems to be a pretty spreadable vaccine property, if you will, and it makes in the case of beekeeping, a very convenient delivery mode. If we could feed this to queens and queen candy, queen producers could conceivably sell pre-vaccinated queens that would confer protection to all of her daughters. That's an exciting new mode of delivery and it's exciting that it would be passed on to all of her progeny, which is different from other vaccines that we have read and talked about before.
Kim:That's really wild actually.
Keith:Yes, it is. Think about the days 10, 15 years ago when we were thinking about RNA silencing, we were talking about similar modes of delivery. We were wanting to give the virus in food, but in that case, we were trying to give it to all of the bees in a colony, all of the workers, which would then eat that RNA silencing product and then expose it to the mites that were feeding upon them or the viruses that the mites were injecting. It had to be delivered to all of the workers in a colony. This is much more efficient. We're just vaccinating the queen and that she essentially inoculates all of her daughters for us.
Kim:Quick question, Keith. How would this work when that queen is gone? Am I going to have to get another queen that's been vaccinated or what's the second chapter in this story?
Keith:I think there would be a gradual loss of the activity if you lose your queen because you could still have some of that within generation transmittal from sister to sister, but that would eventually wane and diminish and disappear altogether. I think you would be looking at having to replace it with another vaccinated queen ultimately, even though you would get some sunset benefit for a few brood cycles.
Kim:Am I able to obtain this material if I'm raising my own queens? I'm a commercial beekeeper. I raise several thousand a year. Is that going to be able to be available?
Keith:I think the company would be happy to sell their vaccine product and I don't see any restrictions to the availability of it yet. It's not like it's going to be by prescription at this point. I think it'll be something available to queen producers to feed to their queens and I think it'd be a real selling point to market queens that are pre-vaccinated. We are right now working with just one pathogen and that's American Foulbrood and the company is well aware that there's bigger fish to fry. There are mite vectored viruses that they want to include in their smorgasboard. We envision having a cocktail, if you will, that we can feed to our queens that would have activity against a lot of pathogens, bacterial and viral.
Kim:That gets a lot more exciting I think.
Keith:I think so. There's, there's conceivably no reason why we couldn't load this with a lot of vaccines.
Jeff:Why not be able to feed it as a food to all the workers in a pollen patty or in a sugar patty?
Keith:We envision this as a more cost effective way for the beekeeper. You could keep on feeding it to all the workers, but then you'd be back to that model that I was mentioning with RNA-I. That model was just to keep feeding them. Whereas with one queen, you get all of her progeny all of the time are inoculated. We anticipate it being more economical and cost effective for the beekeeper. It's a smaller bottleneck, if you will, that gets bigger bang for the buck.
Jeff:Does it pass over the drone?
Keith:No. The drones will be receiving the antigen in their eggs as well. It's totally maternal. It's totally in the eggs.
Jeff:It doesn't transfer by the sperm also in a drone.
Keith:I don't know if that's even been tested yet, but it certainly does in eggs.
Jeff:That'd be interesting. That would be a bonus coup.
Keith:It would. You could conceivably feed it to your drone source colonies, their mother, because likewise, all of her eggs would confer resistance to her sons so you could ramp it up that way and a queen breeder, for instance, would want to inoculate his drone source colonies.
Keith:Those queens as well.
Kim:Keith, if you had a colony that had been progressing along this line, I got a queen, she'd been vaccinated, she's been around for four or five generations and suddenly she's gone. I dropped my hive tool and she's not here anymore, but all of the bees in that colony are going to have been exposed to this over those generations. My question is, if the colony raises its queen or you provide an unvaccinated queen, would the workers feeding either of those queens reinoculate her so that the eggs that she begins to produce would go back to where you wanted?
Keith:That's a good question, Kim, and I don't know if any experiments have really tested that yet to see if there is a decay effect over time across generations. That's essentially what you're asking. Would a worker egg or would a queen egg from an inoculated queen, would that individual queen have the vaccine that she would confer to her offspring? I think the answer is no. I think you get a pretty sharp dilution effect across the generations and that's part of what the vaccine product is, a concentrated dose of the antigen, the denatured pathogen. You get a good, healthy, strong dose in that initial inoculation. I think it would decay with time. That's a good outstanding question that I think needs to be asked.
Kim:Workers who have originated from an egg from a queen who was vaccinated, is that worker feeding a worker who didn't come from one of those eggs? Is that going to pass that on?
Keith:Yes, there's a measurable effect of that happening. That is correct.
Kim:If we get workers in there that drift in or I shake a frame off from another colony or suddenly I've got a bunch of workers in that colony who have not been exposed to this, the bees in the colony will make them exposed to this so I can breathe easier.
Keith:Yes. There will be some collateral benefit from that, from the feeding action. Ultimately the queen mother of that colony is the well that this water comes from and upon her death, there will be a gradual diminishment of the dose that they all get. That's why there's a delayed response if a queen is killed, her workers will keep inoculating each other for a while.
Kim:That makes sense. It makes things easier for people like me who don't get to their colonies every other day. [laughs]
Keith:It's attractive for a lot of reasons. Again, it's varroa. We all know that varroa is public enemy number one and to give a viral remedy to the mite syndrome, I think is a big step in the right direction to keeping our bees healthier along with mite treatments.
Kim:You can isolate the virus. The mites are spreading. The article that I read talking about AFB said essentially for a visual, they put all of those bacteria from the AFB into a blender and chop them up and then they put that essentially in a sugar solution and feed it to the queens. Is that going to work that same way with the viruses?
Keith:Yes, it's virus is always harder. They bridge that divide between organism or not organism. The biology of viruses is always a little on the edge. That's on the company's horizon to work on soon. It's not the next thing on the horizon. The next thing we're wanting to work on is an EFB vaccine and we're hoping to begin those trials as soon as this coming spring. They're starting out with the low hanging fruit. Let's go with the bacteria and then up to the viruses.
Kim:It beats putting an antibiotic in my hive, that's for sure.
Keith:Yes, it does. One of the big roadblocks in all of this is in insects and honeybees in particular, it is extremely difficult to rear tissue in the lab that is 100% negative to viruses. We can do that for bacteria, but we can't do that for viruses just simply because of technical problems and limitations in culturing the tissue, so in virus research, we have no negative controls. We just can't do that simply with honeybee tissue culture. It's technical hurdles that haven't been bridged yet. In other insects yes, honeybees no, for reasons that I don't understand because that's outside of my area, but that has been a real roadblock with virus vaccines. It was also for the RNA-I path as well. That's been a big technical hurdle.
Kim:A queen producer can produce queens then that would be both AFB and EFB resistant. Is that the word?
Keith:They'd be immunized. They wouldn't be resistant because that implies a genetic resistance but they would be immunized.
Keith:That makes sense. Yes. A person who's been vaccinated for COVID is now resistant to it.
Kim:Okay, I got to ask the question, is there going to be a booster on this? I couldn't resist. I'm sorry.
Keith:Working on it as we speak, I'm sure.
Jeff:Is there a concern for resistance to the vaccine in from AFB?
Keith:Would the bacterium be able to dodge the--?
Keith:The answer's yes. Organisms are plastic in the sense that they're labial and they move and evade roadblocks that we put up against them. What you're asking is, could the AFB bacterium evolve reactions to the immune responses that bees trigger in their bodies when they're exposed to this vaccine? Yes, it's conceivable, but it's going to be more difficult because these immune systems affect every single cell throughout the organism's body, the host's body.
There's a lot more genes involved in that form of resistance as opposed to an acute toxin like an antibiotic or a pesticide that triggers relatively fewer genes. It's easier for the pathogen to evolve resistance against fewer genes than more genes. We're talking here about a cellular systemic-wide reaction in the vaccinated host. That's harder to become genetically resistant to.
Jeff:Sounds really hopeful for the future. When will this be commercially available?
Keith:From the company's point of view, it could be available this spring. The only thing that's left now is some regulatory boxes to check with FDA and that's moving along on schedule. The company is hopeful that in 2023 we can see the AFB vaccine released.
Jeff:Well, there's something to look forward to.
Keith:Something to look forward to in the new year.
Kim:Take antibiotics out of my storeroom for good, I hope. That would be good.
Keith:I'm excited too about the EFB vaccine because EFB has been resurging in recent years. There's a lot of association with EFB and blueberry pollination for some crazy reason. I'm glad to see the company working on an EFB vaccine next. I think that's smart. They know that they need to work on the viruses. That's definitely on their short list.
Jeff:Let's take this quick opportunity to take a break and we'll be right back.
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Jeff:We've been learning about the bee vaccine and you've mentioned the company. Who is your partner that you're working with to roll this out to the industry?
Keith:Yes, I have to be clear that the intellectual hard work here has been performed by scientists with Dalan Animal Health. This is the company that owns the intellectual property on this. They're the proprietors. They've made this active ingredient. They own all the intellectual property on this. Our role at the University of Georgia has been to support this company with field research to field truth their products and to work on testing protocols with them on testing future products. Dalan Animal Health, that's what you want to keep an eye on here. I receive no personal interest in this product let me be quick to add, but we have been enjoying some funding from them to do our field studies and support my staff in and materials and operating costs.
Dalan is a startup that moved into Athens, Georgia and Park to work with my lab and also with my colleague York Mayor in the UGA Veterinary College who is taking active interest in honeybee health. It makes for a good partnership. Athens, Georgia is a nice place to live. Everybody wins and I'm hoping that Dalan and we can have good collaborations for years to come. I can anticipate funding graduate students undergraduate internships with this company right here in Athens. It's a pretty sweet blend of public and private interests at work here.
Jeff:It sounds like it. Sounds wonderful.
Kim:If you go take a look at their webpages, they've got a lot of information on honeybee health on there that they are more than willing to share. If you get a chance, go take a look at their webpage too.
Keith:Yes. Those of you who are interested in reading the scientific literature, you can just do Google searches on insect inherited immunity and you'll find the original literature on this and read to your heart's content all the details.
Jeff:It's been a long winter so far, so there might be a sudden increase of hits on that webpage.
Kim:Well, Keith, it looks like you've got a bunch of things scoped out for your lab people to be doing this summer. What else you got coming down the road here that you're looking at?
Keith:Well, Kim, for years now I've been personally interested in honeybee queen multiple mating and we still have some work coming out on that. We have a paper coming out early this year on showing how honeybee queen multiple mating benefits the colony at many levels. We're trying to understand how that works in evolutionary time. We're also interested in figuring out how to deliver that to beekeepers in a way that's practical. It's one thing to say it queens that mate with lots of males produce healthy colonies. It's another thing to say, okay, how do I do this? How do I get queens with lots of males represented in their spermatheca?
Some of the work that we've been doing has been focused on brood mixing. If you mix brood among colonies, you are imitating that effect because queens mate with different males. If you mix up a lot of brood in a colony, you've just increased the paternity count in that colony. We've got some favorable evidence that that can mimic some of the benefits of queen mating. We're trying to get that work published this coming year and have something really tangible to tell beekeepers how to improve the mating number of their queens. I think it's interesting, but we have some evidence from Europe that honeybee queen mating number is also partially under genetic control.
I can imagine selecting for queens that mate more times than others. If you wish to call it a promiscuity gene, are there queens that will mate more than others? If so, this might be a beneficial trait that we could select for and get colonies with more paternal lines represented by their workers. It all boils down, Kim, to genetic diversity in the nest. That's always a winning combination with honeybees. We're continuing to work on that. My sidekick and lab manager Jennifer Barry is no stranger to your listeners. Jennifer has interesting projects coming up. She's made a name for herself in prison beekeeping training programs.
She's also got a new initiative going on with golf courses and the golf manager at the University of Georgia Golf Course in trying to gear up some training programs for golf course managers to make their golf courses more friendly to pollinators. That's exciting. I have a new colleague in my department Lewis Bartlett, who is a new PhD. He's been hired on faculty now as a research scientist. Lewis is getting grants and funding to work on small hive beetles and also the medicinal benefits of hydrogen peroxide in the nest.
Hydrogen peroxide may be a naturally occurring antibiotic in beehives, and the bees may possibly self-medicate. There's evidence that they increase the amount of hydrogen peroxide near the brood than they do further away from brood. That suggests that there may be an adaptive benefit to letting hydrogen peroxide percolate in the stored nectar nearest your brood. Lewis wants to run with that a little bit and see what he finds out. That's in a nutshell, Kim, what we got going on at the UGA bee lab in the next 12 months.
Kim:Sounds like a full year.
Keith:I think it will every bit of it and we'll probably not get it all done.
Kim:I say that's always better than the alternative, not having enough to do. I'm waiting to see the first queen breeder ad that says she's been inoculated and she's promiscuous and she's lending to your colony the healthiest brood you can imagine. I'm waiting to see that ad.
Keith:Isn't it, though? Just think how funny it sounds to outsiders to listen in on a conversation between two beekeepers.
Jeff:There goes our non-explicit rating on the podcast. Those are exciting developments though and I think the proof of concept with the American Foulbrood and European Foulbrood and if they can get that to work with all of varroa viruses and virus complex that would be the gold ring on that merry-go-round, I think.
Keith:It certainly would. I think that's what the answer to varroa mite is going to look like in the end. It's going to be messy and complicated and multifaceted. I think beekeepers are figuring that out and they understand and they're with us on that.
Jeff:Well, Keith, we've really appreciated your time with us this afternoon. Is there anything we haven't discussed that you'd like to bring to our attention?
Keith:I appreciate what you're doing. You're getting science-based information out there to the beekeepers and that's what we need. I applaud you.
Jeff:Well, thank you. Appreciate that.
Kim:Thank you, sir.
Jeff:I don't know if we have enough time, but how warmed up are your bagpipes? I think that would be really cool to get some of that on the podcast.
Keith:They're not warmed enough. [laughs] They're warmed up [laughs]
Jeff:Well, we'll have to. We'll have to give you a better warning next time you get the--
Keith:Give me five minutes to warm them up next time. [laughs]
Jeff:We'll spare our listeners the sound of bag pipes warming up.
Keith:No, trust me. A tuning up bagpipe is not a pretty sound.
Jeff:[laughs] Well, Keith, thanks so much for your time this afternoon. Folks, we're recording this the week of Christmas and Keith was so generous to join us. Thank you for taking the time.
Kim:Keith, got a quick question before you go. Does your lab have a webpage that talks about what's going on down there?
Keith:Yes. Just go ahead and just Google University of Georgia Honeybee Program and you will find it and everything that we're doing.
Kim:Okay, good. We'll get that on the webpage and we'll get the other contacts on the webpage so that when people come to listen, they can come and find the rest of you.
Keith:Excellent. I'm glad for that. Thank you.
Jeff:Thank you, Keith. I can't wait for a bee vaccine. That'll be a great new additional to the arsenal beekeepers have for managing their bees these days.
Kim:Well, getting antibiotics out of the hive just with AFB and EFB, maybe as soon as next year has got to be a good thing. The less of those chemicals we have in the universe, the better off we're going to be. It's going to be cheaper, it's going to be easier, it's going to be faster, it's going to be better. Yes, I'm looking forward to it too, but I've got to tell you, the future with mites and viruses is really exciting.
Jeff:Yes, it really is. You're mentioning using the vaccine, but I've said this before, I can remember going to the local feed shop and getting my little foil pouch of TM25 and taking that back and dusting the top bars of my hives as a preventative measure against American Foulbrood. My, how times have changed, and now you can't even get TM25. You have to get it prescribed. That's so reckless looking backwards, and having this vaccine would be wonderful.
Kim:I'm looking forward to it. It's got to only be a good step for beekeepers everywhere.
Jeff:Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast or wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at globalpatties.com.
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast. Check out their probiotic line at strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Better Bee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com. Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of Bee Books Old New with Kim Ploto. Check out all of their books at northernbeebooks.co.uk. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to leave us comments and questions at leave a comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:34:17] [END OF AUDIO]
Professor and Walter B. Hill Fellow, University of Georgia
Keith has been keeping bees since 1975. He attended graduate school at LSU under the direction of Dr. John Harbo and has been Professor and Director of the honey bee program at the University of Georgia since 1990.
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