We all know what workaholics bees are, but now we know that they are super moms too. A new study shows that bees vaccinate their newborn before birth with a protein called vitellogenin.
A group of researchers from Arizona, Helsinki, Jyvaskyla and Norwegia came to realize that this protein protects bees against disease. Gro Amdam, a professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences, stated that the immunization of bees was a great mistery up until this point, but it seems that the process is “as simple as eating”.
Amdam attributes this success to 15 consecutive years to vitellogenin study. It seems as though this “vaccination” is quite incidental. It is made by the Queen Bee and it sort of created because of her behavior.
As queen mother, she rarely leaves the nest, so the worker bees need to spread out and gather food for her. They gather pollen and nectar which they later use to create “royal jelly”. This jelly is only eaten by the Queen. The jelly accidentally contains bacteria which is digested by her and later on binds to vitellogenin. The vitellogenin is carried via blood to the growing eggs and practically “vaccinates” them to ensure disease protection.
Co-author Dalial Freitak, a postdoctoral researcher with University of Helsinki also added that:
“We are patenting a way to produce a harmless vaccine, as well as how to cultivate the vaccines and introduce them to bee hives through a cocktail the bees would eat. They would then be able to stave off disease.”
Now you might be wondering why this discovery is important in any way. Yes, we found out that bees are more thorough than we knew until now, but is there more to this? You should know there is: the implementation of such a vaccine can have a very strong positive impact on the ecosystem and on food production. Humans rely on the honey that bees produce to ensure our survival.
However, honey bee colonies in the United States dropped from 6 million in 1947 to a low 2.5 million today. Numbers are lower than ever and specialists don’t seem to know why exactly. Implementing a new vaccine can encourage the sustainability and growth of the bee population, thus encouraging honey production.
Moreover, this discovery could also help other species such as poultry, reptiles, fish, amphibians and insects are reported to have vitellogenin in their bodies. So by helping bees, we indirectly help a variety of other species as well. It’s not only for our own benefit, but for nature’s benefit as well.
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