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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 08:29 GMT
Honeybees hold antibiotic secret
honeybees and sunflower
Honeybees have been threated by varroa
The discovery of an antibiotic that exists naturally in beehives could be used to protect honeybee populations under threat from disease.

Honeybees are essential to the plant world for pollination. They also create a range of commercially important products for humans, such as honey, pollen, wax and royal jelly.

But honeybees can be struck down by two types of foulbrood disease. Hives in the UK and elsewhere have also been blighted by a disease called Varroa, spread by a parasitic mite.

Now, Brian Dancer and Stuart Prince, of Cardiff University's School of Biosciences, have identified an antibiotic complex from harmless bacteria that could prove to be a useful tool for beekeepers.

'Healthy image'

Dr Dancer said: "We envisage that the spores of this 'natural' antibiotic will be fed to bees, providing them with a protective microflora that could act either prophylactically or as a treatment in disease outbreaks.

They are responsible for the vast majority of pollination and many crops have to be pollinated by bee

John Drake, Beelief apitherapy
"Importantly, because the protective bacteria are unmodified and are naturally derived from the bee environment, such treatment can only serve to promote the healthy image of honey and other bee products."

The researchers say the complex kills the harmful bacteria that cause both types of foulbrood disease. Dr Dancer's work is being transferred from the laboratory to practical use with funding for further microbiology research at Cardiff.

The work has been carried out in association with the National Bee Unit, the Central Science Laboratories, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Horticulture Link programme and Vita (Europe) Ltd, a specialist bee therapeutics company.

'Absolutely crucial'

The work of honeybees is vital to John and Tina Drakes, who run the only apitherapy company in Wales, using beehive products to cure disease, called Beelief. They have 360 hives at their home in Penparc, outside Cardigan, and more than 1,000 people on their client database.

Mr Drakes said: "Most people take a look at a bee and run a mile but bees are absolutely crucial. They are responsible for the vast majority of pollination and many crops have to be pollinated by bees, such as apples."

The Drakes believe honey helps to boost our immune system and general health. They claim beeswax and propolis - a resin collected by bees - can help eczema, hayfever and bronchial asthma, and bee sting or venom can help rheumatism and arthritis.

When honeybees are affected by two bacterial diseases - the American foulbrood and the European foulbrood - they are usually treated with antibiotics, and in severe cases the only way to stop the diseases spreading is to burn the hives, bees and equipment.

Reports from the US and Argentina indicate that foulbrood diseases are becoming resistant to the antibiotics currently used for hive treatment.

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22 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
Deadly mite's threat to bees
17 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Superbees for a sticky situation
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