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Researchers of Freie Universität Berlin and the Bee Research Institute Hohen Neuendorf Discovered Infection Mechanism of Lethal Honeybee Disease

№ 125/2008 from May 13, 2008

Pollination of crops by honeybees is crucial for agriculture. Image Credit:

Few animals are as important as honeybees. Without them, agriculture as it is now could not exist because crops require pollination by bees in order to grow. In working to improve the welfare of bees, researchers at Freie Universität Berlin and the Bee Research Institute Hohen Neuendorf have achieved an important goal: They have discovered the infection mechanism of American foulbrood – an epizootic disease that is extremely dangerous because it can rapidly wipe out entire populations of bees.

The interdisciplinary research team around Dr. Elke Genersch, Bee Research Institute Hohen Neuendorf and lecturer in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Freie Universität Berlin, and Professor Lothar H. Wieler and Dr. Marcel Nordhoff, both from the Institute for Microbiology and Epizootic Disease of the Department of Veterinary Medicine of Freie Universität, has discovered that the bacterial pathogen Paenibacillus larvae that causes American foulbrood lives in the midgut of the bee larvae, subsisting on the prey ingested by the larvae. Only after the larval gut is filled to the bursting point do the bacteria break through the gut wall into the surrounding tissue. Previously, it had been assumed that the bacteria had to pass through the gut mucosa as rapidly as possible, as they could only multiply in larval tissue. It has now been proven that they begin to multiply in the larval gut.

Every year beekeepers around the world suffer severe financial losses due to this notifiable disease. Currently, the only method of control is destruction of the infected bee colony. The new research results are a major breakthrough in honeybee pathology, presenting an opportunity for the development of an efficient form of therapy.

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