Save The Bees! New Study Finds Probiotics Can Help More Than Just Humans
Bees have immune systems, too—and a new study published in Nature finds that the key to saving our bees may be something that we've come to know and love ourselves for their immune-boosting properties: probiotics.
"Probiotics aren't just for humans," says lead author Gregor Reid, Ph.D, Chief Scientist of SeedLabs. "Our idea was that if you could use beneficial microbes to stimulate the immune response or attack the pathogens that are infecting the hives, then maybe we can help save the bees."
It's no secret that bees are essential to our lives (one out of every four bites of food people take is courtesy of bee pollination, according to the United States Department of Agriculture), but they’re becoming an increasingly vulnerable population. Due to how many pesticides we use in our plants and crops, bees' immune systems become compromised and are unable to fight back against harmful viruses and pathogens.
While the future of bees has been looking pretty bleak, a group of researchers at Western and Lawson thought that perhaps introducing bees to probiotics might strengthen their immune systems and allow them to fight off diseases that are killing them by the masses.
"Bee colonies are really interesting little microcosms of biology," says co-lead researcher, Graham Thompson, Ph.D. "There are lots of individuals bees, but they are all genetically related and they are living in a close confined space. They are all very susceptible to contagious disease and they are demographically disposed to outbreaks." That being said, if you infect one bee, you very well might infect them all.
To see whether they could protect bees against contagious disease, researchers supplemented honeybee food with probiotics, which they adorably named BioPatties, to see how the hive would respond to a certain bacterial disease called American Foulbrood.
They found that, like us, bees thrive on gut-healing, immune-boosting probiotics—the beehives treated with probiotics were able to reduce the pathogen by 99%, and their survival rates skyrocketed. When the researchers examined these bees in their lab, they found that it was their increased immunity that gave them the newfound strength to fight the American Foulbrood disease.
The researchers are hopeful that this experiment will ensure the survival of the bee population (and every other species, for that matter). "Long term we hope to add a viable, practical and available treatment alternative to chemicals and antibiotics that beekeepers can readily adopt into their bee-keeping habits to help prevent colony collapse," says Thompson.
It looks like science is finally taking necessary action to help save the bees (!!!). Despite this exciting step forward for environmentalists and beekeepers alike, it's even more interesting to see how probiotic supplements can help more than just human health. Probiotics have already infiltrated items like dog treats and cat food, but never have they been so important for the survival of an entire species.
If anything, this research goes to show that probiotics can be—quite literally—lifesavers.
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