SCIENTISTS at the University of WA are closer to protecting honey bees from a widespread disease that causes dysentery and weakens hives.
There have been dramatic declines in bee populations in the past 20 years because of bee diseases, parasites and bee exposure to pesticides.
Though WA has some of the healthiest honey bees in the world due to geographic isolation, biosecurity measures and the banning of pesticide use on hives, the scientists say their findings are highly relevant for the Australian industry.
A team at the UWA Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER) investigated how male honey bees responded to an infection with the fungal parasite Nosema apis.
The new study unravelled how sick males mounted a defence against the parasite, identifying several immune molecules.
Lead author and research fellow Dr Julia Grassl said it was amazing to discover the complexity of the insect’s immune system.
“We already knew that substances in bee semen were able to recognise and kill Nosema apis very efficiently,” Dr Grassl said.
“However, it is surprising how quickly sick males can activate an efficient response to protect their sperm and ultimately the queen against the disease during mating.”
A bee-derived medication to heal parasite-infected hives could be developed from the identified immune molecules.
CIBER is one of the largest bee research facilities in Australia supported by commercial beekeepers and hobbyists.