BUZZworthy News: First-Ever Vaccine For Insects

December 3, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

The vaccine developers have their sights set on protecting bee colonies against microbial infections.

Scientists from the University of Helsinki in Finland have earned the distinction of developing the world’s first vaccine for honeybees and other pollinators.

Although often overlooked as leaders in the food production industry, honeybees pollinate more than 80% of the world’s plant species and are considered essential for providing food for humans, production animals, and wildlife. However, a sharp decline in pollinator populations threatens current food production. One of the chief causes is emerging disease, including American foulbrood, the most widespread and destructive of the bee brood diseases.

PrimeBEE, developed through research conducted by Dalial Freitak, PhD, and Heli Salmela, PhD, works through an innovation that the university describes as quite simple. “When the queen bee eats something with pathogens in it, the pathogen signature molecules are bound by [the protein] vitellogenin. Vitellogenin then carries these signature molecules into the queen’s eggs, where they work as inducers for future immune responses.” Until now, it was believed that insect vaccination was not possible because the insect immune system lacks antibodies.


  • The Veterinarian's Role in Beekeeping
  • Dogs Used to Detect Devastating Threat to Bees

“We've discovered the mechanism to show that you can actually vaccinate them,” Dr. Freitak explained. “You can transfer a signal from one generation to another.”

PrimeBEE's first aim is to develop a vaccine against American foulbrood. With no known cure, heavy infections of American foulbrood can affect most of the brood, severely weakening and eventually killing the colony.

“We hope that we can also develop a vaccination against other infections, such as European foulbrood and fungal diseases,” Dr. Freitak said. “We have already started initial tests. The plan is to be able to vaccinate against any microbe."

While the vaccine’s efficacy is continually being tested in laboratories, PrimeBEE is simultaneously being accelerated toward launching a business.

“PrimeBEE is a great example of an innovation maturing towards a true commercial seed ready to be spun-out from the University soon,” said Sara Kangaspeska, head of innovation at Helsinki Innovation Services. “It has been inspiring and rewarding to work together with the researchers toward a common goal.”

On the company’s website, administration of PrimeBEE is described in 2 ways: A vaccine dose of 10 to 15 g can be delivered as an edible sugar patty to be consumed by a single queen over 7 to 10 days, or a vaccinated queen can be delivered in a queen cage with 10 accompanying nurse bees to feed her.