Western researchers put bees on probiotic plan

A Western University research team puts a probiotic bio patty into a hive. (Celine Zadorsky / CTV London)

LONDON, Ont. - A bio-patty used as a food supplement for honey bees is being modified by scientists to provide bees with better immune protection.

“It’s a common practice amongst bee keepers to feed honey bees a protein patty. Bee keepers do it all the time so we put probiotics inside the patty,” says Dr. Graham Thompson, associate professor at Western University.

He and the research team say the first steps were to perfect bio-patties with probiotics included in them.

“We specifically chose three select strains of probiotics to put in the patty that we used in the hives and each had a unique function. One was used for immune stimulation. Another was used for pesticide detoxification and the third was a honey bee derived bacterial isolate,” says Brendan Daisley, a PhD candidate at Western.

The team then conducted a study at its apiary by using the probiotic bio-patties in the hives.

During the time of the study, Thompson says the probiotics ended up really being put to the test.

“As it turns out a few days into the experiment there was a natural outbreak of a common pathogen called American Foulbird in our colonies. We couldn’t have designed it better in a way because we were then able to monitor the health of the colonies as they were battling the disease and this infection.”

Daisley says the results ended up being quiet promising. “So the number in the infecting bacteria that were there, there was a 99 per cent reduction in the hives that were treated by probiotics.”

The promising result is good news for the team which has moved ahead with more in-depth studies in this area.

The research team has two other related studies underway - one in Detroit and one in California, where farmers rely on bees for their almond crops.