Another day, another study that proves humans are not as unique in their intelligence as we thought they were. An abundance of recent studies have shown how chimpanzees share people’s enjoyment of cooked food and alcohol, and now is the bees’ turn to prove that we’re not all that different.
A new study conducted by an international team of researchers from Arizona State University, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, the University of Helsinki and the University of Jyväskylä, has revealed that bees naturally immunize their young babies against any and all diseases that can be found in their specific environment.
For their study, the researchers looked at a bee blood protein known as “vitellogenin” and noticed that it plays a critical, albeit previously unknown part in protecting baby bees against the specific diseases that they’re surrounded by.
Gro Amdam, study co-author and professor from Arizona State University‘s School of Life Sciences, gave a statement explaining that “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”.
He went on to add that the amazing discovery that the team stumbled upon was made possible due to “15 years of basic research on vitellogenin”. He also mentioned that this is a fine example of how “long-term investments in basic research” pays off.
Dalial Freitak, study co-author and postdoctoral researcher from the University of Helsinki, gave a statement of his own echoing professor Amdam’s opinion. He shared that he’s been studying bee immunization for almost 10 years ago. It’s a project that started when he started his doctoral studies, and it’s only now that he feels he’s finally solved a significant part of the puzzle.
But how does it all work you may ask? First you need to know that the queen almost never leaves the nest in honey bee colonies. One of the main consequences of this is that worker bees have to bring her food, however forager bees can easily pick up pathogens from their surroundings, while collecting pollen and nectar.
Worker bees then use this pollen in order to make “royal jelly”, a meal specifically prepared for the queen, and one that contains bacteria brought in from the outside world.
After the queen eats this bacteria rich meal, she digests the pathogens in the gut and transfers them to the body cavity. They are then stored in the queen’s so called “fat body”, an organ not unlike a liver.
What happens next is that pieces of bacteria get bound to the vitellogenin and transported to developing eggs via blood. This is how baby bees get vaccinated and born with an immune system that’s better equipped at fighting off the diseases that they get exposed to in their surrounding environment. This is also the hidden function of vitellogenin that the researchers did not know about.
The researchers also mentioned that many of the pathogens that bees get exposed to are deadly and this type of vaccination does not keep them alive. So the next step for Amdam and Freitak is to develop a natural, edible vaccine for these pathogens, then find a way to introduce it into bee hives in the shape of a cocktail that bees would consume.
The study was published earlier this week, on Friday (July 31, 2015), in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
Image Source: news.harvard.edu