Baby bees are vaccinated before they are born

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Baby Bees Are Vaccinated Before They Are Born

Scientists have known this for some time, but the process by which bee-immunization occurs has eluded the entomological community for years. That may be changing.

An international team of researchers recently published a study in the journal PLOS Pathogens which links pre-formed bee immunity to a common protein found in bees' blood.

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Baby bees are vaccinated before they are born
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close up of honey bees flying
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HOMESTEAD, FL - MAY 19: A honeybee is seen at the J & P Apiary and Gentzel's Bees, Honey and Pollination Company on May 19, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration announced May 19, that the government would provide money for more bee habitat as well as research into ways to protect bees from disease and pesticides to reduce the honeybee colony losses that have reached alarming rates. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A bee collects pollen in a sunflower field, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, near Lawrence, Kan. The 40 acre field planted annually by the Grinter family draws bees and lovers of sunflowers alike during the weeklong late summer blossoming of the flowers. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

In a typical honey bee colony, the queen bee doesn't get out much. So, forager bees bring food to her. While out and about, the foragers tend to pick up pathogenic bacteria as they gather pollen and nectar. Once the pollen makes it back to the hive, worker bees turn it into "royal jelly" which is fed exclusively to the queen -- and contains bacterial pathogens.

The queen digests the bacterial pathogens, which are transferred and stored in her "fat body" -- an organ similar to the liver in vertebrates. Some of the bacterial pathogens bind themselves to the vitellogenin protein which is carried through the queen's blood to developing eggs.

These bacteria more or less inoculate baby bees by strengthening their immune systems against diseases specific to their environment.

Professor Gro Amdam, co-author of the study, said, "The process by which bees transfer immunity to their babies was a big mystery until now. What we found is that it's as simple as eating."

Researchers hope to use the discovery to develop and patent an edible bee vaccine to help pollinators against infectious diseases which can decimate entire bee populations.

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