No shot needed, bees vaccinate their babies naturally


July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don’t have a choice — they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how they do it.

Researchers from Arizona State University, University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä and Norwegian University of Life Sciences made the discovery after studying a bee blood protein called vitellogenin. The scientists found that this protein plays a critical, but previously unknown role in providing bee babies protection against disease. Bee baby When a bee is born, they are already “vaccinated” against some diseases found in their environment. This immune system priming is passed along to the larvae from the queen bee via a blood protein called vitellogenin. Download Full Image

The findings appear today in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

“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,” said Gro Amdam, a professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and co-author of the paper. “Our amazing discovery was made possible because of 15 years of basic research on vitellogenin. This exemplifies how long-term investments in basic research pay off.”  

Co-author Dalial Freitak, a postdoctoral researcher with University of Helsinki adds: “I have been working on bee immune priming since the start of my doctoral studies. Now almost 10 years later, I feel like I’ve solved an important part of the puzzle. It’s a wonderful and very rewarding feeling!”

How it works

In a honey bee colony, the queen rarely leaves the nest, so worker bees must bring food to her. Forager bees can pick up pathogens in the environment while gathering pollen and nectar. Back in the hive, worker bees use this same pollen to create “royal jelly” — a food made just for the queen that incidentally contains bacteria from the outside environment.

After eating these bacteria, the pathogens are digested in the gut and transferred to the body cavity; there they are stored in the queen’s "fat body" — an organ similar to a liver. Pieces of the bacteria are then bound to vitellogenin — a protein — and carried via blood to the developing eggs. Because of this, bee babies are "vaccinated" and their immune systems better prepared to fight diseases found in their environment once they are born.

Vitellogenin is the carrier of these immune-priming signals, something researchers did not know until now.

First edible vaccines for bees

While bees vaccinate their babies against some diseases, many pathogens are deadly and the insects are unable to fight them.

But now that Amdam and Freitak understand how bees vaccinate their babies, this opens the door to creating the first edible and natural vaccine for insects.

“We are patenting a way to produce a harmless vaccine, as well as how to cultivate the vaccines and introduce them to bee hives through a cocktail the bees would eat. They would then be able to stave off disease,” said Freitak.

One destructive disease that affects bees is American Foul Brood, which spreads quickly and destroys hives. The bacterium infects bee larvae as they ingest food contaminated with its spores. These spores get their nourishment from the larvae, eventually killing them.

This disease is just one example where the researchers say a vaccine would be extremely beneficial.

Why this discovery is important to humans

It’s widely known that pollinators, including bees, are facing serious environmental dangers.

During the past six decades, managed honey bee colonies in the United States have declined from 6 million in 1947 to only 2.5 million today. Not only are bees affected by diseases, they have been decimated by a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes this, but pesticides, pests, pathogens and nutrition problems may all be contributing factors.

According to a 2014 report by the U.S. government, pollinators are instrumental for a healthy economy and critical to food security, contributing 35 percent of global food production. In North America, insects pollinate 87 of the top 115 food crops and honey bees are vital in keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets.

Humans depend on bees and other pollinating insects for a huge portion of their food supply. Insect vaccines could play an important role in helping to combat colony collapse disorder, in addition to fighting a variety of diseases.

All egg-laying species have vitellogenin

This discovery could have far-reaching benefits for other species, as well as substantial, positive impacts on food production. All egg-laying species, including fish, poultry, reptiles, amphibians and insects, have vitellogenin in their bodies.

The food industry could implement the use of natural vaccines that would not only be inexpensive to produce, they could easily be used in developing countries.

“Because this vaccination process is naturally occurring, this process would be cheap and ultimately simple to implement. It has the potential to both improve and secure food production for humans,” said Amdam.

This study was funded by several Academy of Finland grants 265971, 251337 and 252411, as well as Norwegian Research Council grants 180504 and 191699.

ASU School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences

480-965-9865

“Statement Piece: Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool” opens Aug. 1 at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard


July 31, 2015

This fall, the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center will present "Statement Piece: Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool," an exhibition that brings together two socially-engaged artists from different generations. The exhibition is curated by the ASU Art Museum’s curator of ceramics, Garth Johnson, and will be on view Aug. 1 through Nov. 21, 2015 at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard, located at 7th Street and Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.

In the 1950s, Erik Gronborg, who was born in Denmark, spent several years in a work camp for conscientious objectors before moving to the United States, where he made his mark with a series of functional pots addressing the Vietnam War. At age 83, Gronborg is still working in his studio, although he has shifted from ceramics to woodworking and maintaining an elaborate garden that he began in 1976. Ehren Tool’s cup installation at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, 2012. Image courtesy of the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Photo by Noel Bass Download Full Image

Ehren Tool joined the Marine Corps in the early 1990s and served in Operation Desert Storm. Upon his return, he began to study ceramics, using functional pottery as a way to explore his evolving views about military service and the human toll inflicted by warfare. Over the past decade, Tool has given away more than 14,000 handmade cups loaded with images related to the United States military. He was recently featured in an episode of the PBS program "Craft in America" that revolved around veterans in the arts. When asked about the function of his artwork, Tool has said, “I hope that some of these cups can be starting points for conversations about unspeakable things.”

“Gronborg and Tool have been paired for this exhibition because of similarities in their work and parallels in their personal histories,” explains Johnson. “Both artists harness the power of images pressed into wet clay. Both create approachable, functional pottery with social content built in that causes the person using the artwork to contemplate their own relationship with the U.S. Military. It is also no coincidence that Gronborg and Tool both received advanced degrees from the University of California-Berkeley.”

RELATED PROGRAMS

From Sept. 9–11, artist Ehren Tool will be in the Phoenix area, creating cups and speaking to and making art with veterans groups and the general public. The ASU Art Museum is partnering with ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement and Pat Tillman Veterans Center, which seek to help veterans and their dependents pursue their educational goals, and Wings for Warriors, a nonprofit that helps wounded veterans with healthcare and financial benefits counseling and travel expenses. Further details will be made available by late August.

A reception for the exhibition will be held Friday, Sept. 11, from 6:30–8:30 p.m. (with a members, alumni and press preview from 5:30–6:30 p.m.). Tool will spend that day making cups in the gallery space at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard. Members of the public are welcome to collaborate with Tool to create their own handmade ceramic cup.

All ASU Art Museum events are free and open to the public.

During the course of the exhibition, the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center will welcome classes and groups to meet at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard for discussions over coffee and tea served from Ehren Tool’s cups. To schedule a visit, please call the ASU Art Museum Brickyard at 480.727.8170.

CREDIT

This exhibition is supported by the Helme Prinzen Endowment and by the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Ore., Ron M. Werner and Scott McCoy, Dan Berman and Greg Weller, James Wallace and Julie Bergstrom, Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool.

ABOUT THE ASU ART MUSEUM

The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America magazine, is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

To learn more about the museum, call 480.965.2787, or visit asuartmuseum.asu.edu.

Location/Parking: The museum has three locations across the metro Phoenix area: the ASU Art Museum at 10th Street and Mill Avenue, on ASU’s Tempe campus; the ASU Art Museum Brickyard at 7th Street and Mill Avenue, in downtown Tempe; and the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix. Designated parking is available at all three locations.

Admission: Free at all three locations.

Hours: The ASU Art Museum and ASU Art Museum Brickyard are open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space in downtown Phoenix at Combine Studios has variable public hours depending on exhibition schedules and is o


Public Contact: 
Juno Schaser
PR Specialist
480.965.0014
juno.schaser@asu.edu