- Apr 16, 2021
- Perched on a rock in Canada
A new method of boosting the immune systems of honey bees could help the pollinator ward off different types of deadly viruses, a recent study has found.
Researchers from the University of Florida, Louisiana State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published a paper on June 22 in the peer-reviewed Virology Journal about a treatment, which they say stimulates the antiviral responses of bees.
Using a drug called pinacidil, which produced slightly more highly reactive molecules known as free radicals, the researchers say it greatly reduced — and in some cases almost eliminated — infection.
"While free radicals are often bad for cell health, in moderate amounts they can be therapeutic, as we see in this study," Troy Anderson, study co-author and a professor of entomology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in a news release Thursday.
"In this case, the additional free radicals signal to the immune system to ramp up, which helps the bees fight off viruses."
The researchers note that multiple factors, including viruses, have contributed to the overall population decline of honey bees, whose ability to pollinate crops makes them important for food production.
As part of the study, the researchers mixed pinacidil with sugar water for the bees to eat and feed to their young.
The scientists drizzled the sugar water over honey comb at night to ensure as many bees as possible received the drug, given bees constantly move in and out of the hive during the day, the researchers said.
The drug works by altering bees' potassium ion channels — proteins found in the membranes of most cells — which in turn produced free radicals.
The study found that this treatment protected bees from six potentially deadly viruses, including Israeli acute paralysis virus, deformed wing viruses A and B, black queen cell virus and Lake Sinai viruses 1 and 2.
In colonies dealing with a Varroa mite infestation, which can also spread viruses to bees, the researchers found that the survival rate increased for bees that received the drug.
Daniel Swale, senior author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Florida, said the treatment worked both in the lab and in colonies in the field with as many as 80,000 bees.
"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," Swale said.