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article imageNew discovery in the fight against Foulbrood bee disease

By Sravanth Verma     Dec 31, 2014 in Science
Researchers from the University of Guelph have developed an inhibitor against the American foulbrood disease, which affects honeybee populations around the world. The study will be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The American foulbrood disease is a naturally occurring pathogen of honeybee populations. Scientists haven't had much success with controlling the disease through antibiotics as the disease has been rapidly evolving over the last decades. Now, researchers have isolated a toxin, C3larvin, that the pathogen, Paenibacillus larvae (P. larvae), releases and have developed a lead-based inhibitor against it.
"Our approach is designing tools that disarm bacteria without killing them. It does not put pressure on them to mutate because it's not threatening their survival, it's just saying, 'You cannot hurt us, go away,'" said Rod Merrill, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a study co-author. "Basically, if we can disarm it, it cannot colonize and cannot cause infection in honeybee larvae. It becomes innocuous," Merrill said. This is a marked contrast to previous attempts to control the disease. “Antibiotics are failing not only humans but bees as well,” Merrill added.
Since the pathogen spreads through spores, the only feasible control method so far has been to burn the hive and associated equipment, because the spores may remain viable for 40 years.
There is much work to be done before a viable inhibitor can be developed. This study only identified and characterized the toxin. "We don't yet know how important C3larvin is as a virulence factor in P. larvae in infecting honeybee larvae," Merrill said. "Once we know what it does, we can inhibit it and that will help protect the bees from this bacterium that is killing their larvae."
Honeybees have been on the decline in recent years due to climate change, pesticides and disease. One of the primary products obtained from honeybees is of course honey, which has health benefits besides being an important commercial product. Besides this, the importance of bee populations in general can be gauged from the fact that $15 billion a year in U.S. crops are pollinated by bees, including apples, berries,cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa, and almonds.
More about Declining honeybees, American foulbrood disease, University of guelph
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