January 21, 2019

Finnish Scientists Develop First Insect Vaccine

By American Veterinarian Staff
Although often overlooked as leaders in the food production industry, honeybees pollinate more than 80% of the world’s plant species and are considered essential for providing food for humans, production animals, and wildlife. However, a sharp decline in pollinator populations threatens current food production. By developing the first insect vaccine, a company called PrimeBEE aims to protect bees from disease. 

One chief problem is emerging disease, including American foulbrood, the most widespread and destructive of the bee brood diseases. With no known cure, heavy infections can affect most of the brood, severely weakening and eventually killing the colony. 

The PrimeBEE vaccine, developed by Dalial Freitak, PhD, and Heli Salmela, PhD, of the University of Helsinki, works through a simple innovation. When the queen bee eats something containing pathogens, the protein vitellogenin binds the pathogens’ signature molecules. Vitellogenin then carries the signature molecules into the queen’s eggs, where they work as inducers for future immune responses. Until now, it was believed that insect vaccination was not possible because the insect immune system lacks antibodies. 

The company’s first goal is to develop a vaccine against American foulbrood. “We hope that we can also develop a vaccination against other infections, such as European foulbrood and fungal diseases,” Dr. Freitak said. “We have already started initial tests. The plan is to be able to vaccinate against any microbe.” 

PrimeBEE is administered in 1 of 2 ways: A vaccine dose (10-15 g) can be delivered as a sugar patty to be consumed by a single queen over 7 to 10 days, or a vaccinated queen can be delivered in a queen cage with 10 accompanying nurse bees to feed her 

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