In a recent press release, the Technical University of Berlin, Germany, has announced a breakthrough in the investigation of Paenibacillus larvae – the bacterium that causes American foulbrood.
Led by Prof. Dr. Roderich Süßmuth, at the Chemical Institute of TU Berlin, and Rolf Müller at Helmholtz Centre for Infectious Research at Germany’s Saarland University, the teams succeeded in identifying a gene sequence that suggests the presence of an unusual and novel metabolic compound, produced by the foulbrood pathogen. Tests showed that this secondary metabolite – which the scientists named Paenilamicin – is an antibiotic that helps the pathogen to kill other bacteria in the bee larvae’s gut, allowing the pathogen to take over. Understanding how these natural products’ are made by the pathogen will make it easier to find a way to block their production, or to find an antibody that could stop them from causing so much damage, Müller says.
The scientists are now investigating how this knowledge can be used to save bees. Secondary metabolites like the one discovered by the research team, are often essential for the success of the pathogen and can therefore be used to develop compounds that might control the bacterium.
“American foulbrood” is a frequently encountered, notifiable disease. If it takes hold, the bee larvae die within a couple of weeks. The nurse bees feed the larvae with the spores of the bacterium, infecting them with the disease. Adult bees are immune to the disease. Despite the enormous damage it causes, the pathogen’s molecular processes are widely unknown. So far, combatting the disease has therefore been almost impossible.
This makes the recent breakthrough good news for beekeepers around the world: it is a ray of hope in the fight against the devastating “American foulbrood” disease.