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Scientists have long known that honey bees vaccinate their offspring to shield them from viruses and bacteria found in their habitat, but only recently did they found exactly how they do it.
An international team of researchers reported the finding after they had analyzed vitellogenin, a protein bees deposit in the fat bodies of their heads and abdomens. Vitellogenin acts as a hormone that regulates foraging patterns as well as an antioxidant, keeping the bee queen and bee foragers young longer. Yet now, researchers found that the protein acts as an immunizer, too.
“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,”
noted Dr. Gro Amdam, lead author of the bee study and researhcer with the Arizona State University,
Dr. Amdam also said that the discovery was made after 15 years of continuous research on vitellogenin. Dalial Freitak of the University of Helsinki who was also involved in the study said that he had been conducting studies on bee immunization since he was a doctoral student. But after 10 years he is satisfied that he have solved what looks like “an important part of the puzzle.”
The research team explained that the queen of a bee colony does not usually leave the nest. So it is up to foragers to go out, find food, and feed her. But during the process, worker bees collect pathogens on their way back to the nest. Those bacteria eventually reach the queen’s food called “royal jelly.”
But shortly after pathogens reached the bee queen’s gut, its body starts to store them into the insect’s “fat body,” a gland very similar to the liver, where they are glued to vitellogenin, which carries them via the blood stream to the developing eggs. Due to this process, baby bees receive proper immunization against the pathogens in queen’s food before they are born.
Scientists currently hope that the finding may help them design an “edible” vaccine that can protect honey bees from deadlier pathogens against which they stand no chance. American Foul Brood is one of those pathogens that wreak havoc within bee colonies. Bee larvae become infected with the deadly bacteria, which feeds upon them, through the food they eat.
But the discovery may be crucial to humans, as well. Since many egg-laying species have vitellogenin in their blood stream, the protein can be used by the food industry to make inexpensive natural vaccines.
Image Source: urbeingrecorded.com
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