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 (ASU), the University of Helsinki, the University of Jyväskylä, and the 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 baby bees with protection against disease. The findings was published online on July 31, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens. The article is titled “Transfer of Immunity from Mother to Offspring Is Mediated via Egg-Yolk Protein Vitellogenin.” "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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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!" 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.
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