Tonight’s episode of “Catalyst” will explore how to protect honey bees against a disease that targets bee larvae, threatening the survival of the pollinating insects.
Over the last 70 years, bee colonies have dropped from six million to two and a half. A collaboration between ASU and the University of Helsinki in Norway is trying to create the first ever vaccination for bees. ASU Professor in the School of Life Sciences Gro Amdam says keeping the bees healthy is essential to keeping humans fed.
The infection that is attacking bees targets the larvae, turning them from squishy white ovals to foul-smelling blobs. When bee harvesters discovers the larvae have been infected, they must burn the entire hive in order to prevent the disease from spreading. It can devastate a farmer’s business and production of honey.
Amdam explains that bees don’t have an acquired immune system. However, researchers have found that if an immunity to the disease is introduced to the queen bee, she is able to pass that gene down to her babies. The vaccination is dissolved into a sugar liquid that can be consumed by the bee.
Principle Researcher at the University of Helsinki Dalial Freitak says the vaccination looks promising. She says even helping decrease the mortality rate of bees from this disease by 10 percent will make a difference. More experiments are lined up for next year in both Norway and Arizona.
“I feel like I did something good and my education has been worth something,” Freitak says. “I helped save the world a little bit.”
TED SIMONS: A LOT OF WORK GOES INTO FEEDING THE 7-BILLION PEOPLE HERE ON EARTH AND A LOT OF THAT WORK INVOLVES TINY, BUZZING WORKERS THAT TURN A FIELD OF GREEN INTO FOOD. STEVE FILMORE IS THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF CATALYST, THE NEW SCIENCE SHOW ON ARIZONA PBS, AND STEVE IS HERE TO TELL US ABOUT THE BIG JOB THAT BEES PLAY IN OUR EVERYDAY LIFE.
STEVE FILMER: TED IT SEEMS LIKE THE WORK OF A BEE IS SIMPLE BUT YOU KNOW IT IS MUCH MORE COMPLEX ESPECIALLY IF DISEASE GETS INVOLVED. BEES LAND ON PLANTS AND TRANSFER POLLEN FROM ONE FLOWER TO ANOTHER. IT MAY NOT SEEM LIKE MUCH BUT THIS PROCESS HELPS FORM THE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WE EAT EVERY DAY. KEEPING BEES HEALTHY IS CRUCIAL TO KEEPING US FED AND THAT'S WHY THE PLIGHT OF THE HONEY BEE HAS ATTRACTED RESEARCHES FROM ASU.
GRO AMDAM: WE ARE WORKING WITH THE CONCEPT OF VACCINATING HONEY BEES. AND THAT IN ITSELF IS AN AMAZING ENDEAVOR. BECAUSE JUST GOING A FEW YEARS BACK, YOU WOULDN'T THINK IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE TO VACCINATE BEES AT ALL, BUT BEE VACCINATION MAY BE POSSIBLE THANKS TO THE EXPERIMENTAL WORK DONE BY RESEARCHERS AROUND THE WORLD. THIS IS KIND OF A COLLABORATION OF HALL SINKY, THE UNIVERSITY OF LIFE SCIENCES AND ASU.
DAIAL FRETAK: ONE THIRD OF OUR FOOD COMES THANKS TO POLLINATORS. SO BASICALLY EVERY THIRD BITE WE TAKE IS THANKS TO POLLINATION. BUT RIGHT NOW WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IS AN INCREASING DECLINE IN POLLINATION NUMBERS. WHAT WE ARE WORKING ON IS THE FIRST EVER VACCINATION FOR HONEY BEES.
VANESSA RUIZ: IN THE PAST 60 YEARS, MANAGED HONEY BEE COLONIES IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE STEADILY DECLINED FROM 6,000,000 TO 2.5 MILLION. MANY COLONIES ARE DISSEMINATED BY A PHENOMENON CALLED COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER AS WELL AS OTHER DISEASES.
GRO AMDAM: THE DISEASE THAT WE ARE FOCUSING ON FOR THIS SPECIFIC EXPERIMENT IS AMERICAN FOUL BREWED. AND AS THE NAME SOUNDS IT'S ATTACKING THE BREWED AND TURNING IT INTO SOMETHING FOUL. IT WILL BASICALLY TURN NICE LOOKING HONEY BEE LARVAE INTO SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE SNOT. KIND OF THE GO TO SOLUTION AT THIS POINT IS TO BURN THE COLONIES, SO WE BURN THE BEES, WE BURN THE EQUIPMENT AND NOT ONLY IS THAT VERY SAD FOR THE BEES AND BEEKEEPER, BUT RESULTS IN A LARGE ECONOMIC LOSS FOR BEEKEEPERS WHO NEED TO SET FIRE TO THEIR LIVELIHOOD.
CAHIT OZTURK: ONE OF THE REASONS I AM A BEE KEEPER IS I LOVE HONEY. I WAS EATING HONEY BEFORE BEING A BEE KEEPER. SO I DON’T WANT TO KILL ONE BEE. I DON'T FEEL GOOD WHEN I BURN THEM WHEN I KILL THE BEES. BUT SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO DO THIS. I SAY I'M GOING TO GO TO HELL.
GRO AMDAM: HONEY BEES DON'T HAVE ACQUIRED IMMUNITY. ACQUIRED IMMUNITY IS WHEN EXPOSED TO DISEASE OR A PRETEND DISEASE LIKE A VACCINE, YOU BUILD A MEMORY IN YOUR BODY, BUT HONEY BEES IN THE HAVING THIS ADAPTIVE IMMUNE SYSTEM, YOU WOULDN'T THINK IT'S POSSIBLE TO VACCINATE THEM BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO MEMORY. WHAT WE FOUND WAS THAT HONEY BEES HAVE THE ABILITY TO HAVE IMMUNITY PASS FROM MOM TO BABY. THIS IS A VACCINE GOING TO BE GIVEN TO QUEENS SO THEY CAN TRANSFER THE VACCINE MATERIAL TO THEIR EGGS AND FOCUS ON THE LARVAE AND PROTECT THE LARVAE AGAINST THE DISEASE. SIMILAR TO VACCINATING CHILDREN AGAINST POLIO, IT'S A LIQUID YOU PUT INTO SUGAR. WE START WITH COLONIES WITH NEWLY LAID EGGS THAT HAVE HATCHED LARVAE AND WE STEAL THEM AWAY FROM THE COLONY. WE ARE GOING TO PUT THEM IN THE QUEEN CUP, WHICH IS A LARGER NURSERY. WE PUT THEM INTO COLONIES THAT IS DON'T HAVE A QUEEN AND ARE HIGHLY MOTIVATED TO GROW A QUEEN. WE ARE PLACING THE QUEENS IN INDIVIDUAL SMALL COLONIES WITH WORKERS THAT CAN TAKE CARE OF THE QUEENS. WE OFFER A SUCCESSFUL FLIGHT. SHE WILL RETURN TO THE COLONY. SHE WILL START LAYING EGGS, AND WE'LL MONITOR THE HEALTH OF THE LARVAE AS THEY GROW IN THE LAB FROM VACCINATED MOTHERS AND UNVACCINATED MOTHERS.
DALIAL FREITAK: WHAT WE SEE THE LARVAE COMING FROM VACCINATED MOTHERS HAVE SLIGHTLY LESS MORTALITY THAN THE LARVAE FROM CONTROL NUMBERS. WE DON'T HAVE CONCLUSIVE NUMBERS YET, BUT IT DOES LOOK PROMISING. WE ARE LOSING SO MANY HONEY BEES EACH YEAR, BUT EVEN IF WE COULD HELP DECREASE THIS A LITTLE BIT EVEN 10% THAT WOULD BE GOOD. WE ARE ONE STEP CLOSER AT CREATING A REAL VACCINE FOR HONEY BEES TO BE USED BY BEE KEEPERS. WE HAVE LINED UP SEVERAL EXPERIMENTS IN NORWAY BUT ALSO POSSIBLY HERE IN ARIZONA. WE'LL SEE WHAT WE CAN DO WITH VIRAL INFECTIONS. I FEEL I DID SOMETHING GOOD AND MY EDUCATION HAS BEEN WORTH SOMETHING. I HELPED TO SAVE THE WORLD A LITTLE BIT.
STEVE FILMER: THE SUCCESS THAT THE RESEARCH TEAMS ARE HAVING COULD HELP WITH OTHER SPECIES AND BE USED TO PROTECT OTHER PARTS OF OUR FOOD PRODUCTION INCLUDING FISH AND POULTRY. VACCINES THAT COME FROM THIS WORK COULD NOT ONLY BE INEXPENSIVE TO MAKE BUT MIGHT ALSO BE EASY TO USE IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES.
TED SIMONS: THANKS STEVE. CATALYST TONIGHT AT 9. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANKS FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.
Steve Filmer: Executive Director, Catalyst
Gro Amdam, Ph.D.: Professor, School of Life Sciences
Cahit Ozturk: Professor, School of Life Sciences
Dalial Freitak, Ph.D.: Principle Researcher, University of Helsinki