Immune-boosting therapy helps honey bees resist deadly viruses

Close up of bees on honeycombs.

Scientists have successfully tested a novel way of boosting honey bees’ immune systems to help them fend off deadly viruses, which have contributed to the major losses of the critical pollinator globally.

In a new study, the research team, which includes entomologists with the University of Florida, the Agricultural Research Service-USDA, Louisiana State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, showed that prompting honey bees’ cells to produce free radicals helped the bees weather a host of viruses. In fact, the treatment greatly reduced, and in some cases, nearly eliminated virus activity in full scale field studies.

“This approach is especially exciting because it doesn’t just target a specific type of virus but helps with many different viruses,” said Daniel Swale, senior author of the study. Swale is the associate director for training and special projects in the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and associate professor in the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department.

“Additionally, we demonstrated that our treatment works both in the lab and in colonies that each contain 80,000 bees in the field. This is huge because, in a hive setting, bees are exposed to so many different viruses and stressors, so successfully controlling viruses in that environment is very encouraging,” said Swale, who completed some of this research while at Louisiana State University.

This article was originally written by Samantha Murray for UF/IFAS. To read the full article, visit the UF/IFAS blog.