Preliminary trials in Australia have shown there to be a direct correlation between gut bacterial numbers in honey bees and the overall health of hives.
The University of Canberra research found high levels of gut bacteria in honeybees could mean healthier and more productive hives.
While further testing needs to be carried out, the new methodology shows promise in preventing and minimizing the impact of chalkbrood, a fungal disease that affects hive health and honey yields.
The research project aims to develop a probiotic product from Australian bee gut bacteria for the apiary industry.
University of Canberra’s Adjunct Associate Professor Murali Nayudu says the latest results build on their previous research, a groundbreaking study that found bacteria could be reintroduced into the gut of diseased bees through probiotics.
“As a first step to assess the use of probiotics in bees, we needed to obtain more data on the natural variation of bee gut bacteria numbers in healthy bees over the four seasons,” Nayudu says.
“Our team set up two apiaries ….in New South Wales, with six hives in total. We consistently monitor these healthy hives for bacterial numbers.”
Nayudu says the team has developed specific methodologies for the project, which involves sampling multiple bees from each hive per time point, isolating bacteria from the bee gut and conducting analysing bacterial numbers for individual bees. From this information, the health state of the beehive can be determined.
“This particular method has meant that we could determine whether bees had healthy bacterial numbers or low bacterial numbers, with the latter seen in bees from diseased chalkbrood-infected hives,” Nayudu says.
“Sampling the gut bacteria of bees from a higher number of hives has enabled us to determine the overall health of an apiary, which could help predicting disease before any visual symptoms appear.”
With more sampling to be done over the southern winter, the recent, positive results mean the research team now will start the second part of the project ahead of time – experiments involving chalkbrood control using probiotics.
“In our previous Australia-wide survey, we isolated a number of bacterial strains that showed strong anti-fungal activity against chalkbrood,” Nayudu says.
“In this project, we will isolate additional bee gut bacterial strains to enlarge our collection, and determine which strains are the most potent in inhibiting Ascosphaera api, the chalkbrood pathogen.
“We are currently gathering a large number of chalkbrood-infected hives to set up different probiotic treatment groups, with the experiments to hopefully commence this (southern) spring.”
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