The missing mechanism lies within vitellogenin, a protein that transfers fat into egg yolk, says Gro Amdam, a biologist at Arizona State University. In research published
in July in PLOS Pathogens
, Amdam and colleagues in Finland show that this seemingly simple protein can bind to “pathogen patterns.” These patterns are like molecular fingerprints for an invading microbe. Vitellogenin shares these patterns through the mother’s hemolymph (the bee version of blood) with the developing embryo, sending along a “most wanted” poster for diseases the mother has already encountered.
Using this knowledge, researchers are developing an edible vaccine against American foulbrood, a disease that decimates honeybee hives. This could pave the way to develop more vaccinations to give stressed colonies an extra shot at life.
[This article originally appeared in print as "Giving Bees a Shot."]