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Probiotics can protect pollinators from colony collapse disorder

The new study reveals that probiotics can help protect honey bees against colony collapse disorder. Honey bees, the planet’s most important pollinators, are critical to approximately a third of the world’s global crops.

The study demonstrates how certain probiotics are an effective means for enhancing host defenses in honeybees and thus reducing pathogen-related hive losses. The impact of pathogenic organisms in the hive community is seen by many scientists to be connected to climate change, pesticide exposure, disease, and habitat loss.

The research comes from SeedLabs. Scientists at the institution were the first to test probiotics–under natural field conditions–against the pest American Foulbrood, which is caused by Paenibacillus larvae (P. larvae is a major honey bee pathogen, responsible for colony losses each year).

The lead scientist is Dr. Gregor Reid, a pioneer in microbial sciences with 35 years of research experience. He chaired the UN-WHO panel that first authored the global definition of the term ‘probiotics’.

Specifically, Dr. Redi’s research was able to show that supplementation of a probiotic species of the bacterium Lactobcaillus (via a food named BioPatty™) can greatly increase resistance of honey bees to American Foulbrood. As Digital Journal reported earlier, this development required an understanding of the microbiome of the honeybee.

In tests, within the hive, SeedLabs found a 99.3 percent reduction in the pathogen (P. larvae) load in honey bee larvae. Targeting the larvae is important since this is the critical life stage that is affected by the disease.

Based on laboratory research, SeedLabs found that supplementation with these strains could also significantly improve survival of experimentally infected honey bee larvae. This research shows mechanistically that specific lactobacilli can actually kill P. larvae, which represents a distinct advantage over bacteriostatic antibiotics that only inhibit growth, but do not kill, P. larvae.

Moreover, ongoing research in collaboration with UC Davis shows a 17 percent increase in honey production with the BioPatty™ in only 12 weeks, suggesting that the application of probiotics presents a strong measure that could help to protect pollinators.

The research is published in the journal Nature, with the paper titled “Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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