BDI & CB Dennis Trust fund research into EFB

October 2020 - A three-year research project to explore the transmission and triggers of European Foulbrood Disease funded by BDI & CB Dennis Trust is underway

A three-year PhD studentship to explore the transmission and triggers of European Foulbrood Disease funded by BDI & the CB Dennis Trust started this autumn. Monika Yordanova (pictured below) has been appointed to undertake the work based at Imperial College London.

Monika writes:

"This year I start my PhD investigation to help understand the factors that influence honeybee vulnerability to European Foul Brood (EFB) so that we may develop and promote evidence-based disease management strategies. My PhD is being undertaken with thanks to generous funding from Bee Disease Insurance Limited and the CB Dennis Trust. Based at Imperial College London, I will be aided in developing my ideas and research by my primary supervisor, Dr Peter Graystock from Imperial College London, and my secondary supervisors, Dr Richard Gill from Imperial College London and Dr Sophie Evison from Nottingham University.

European Foulbrood is a globally distributed disease that kills developing brood and can cause significant energetic costs to surviving adults. This reduces hive fitness and facilitates further spread of the disease. Additionally, the causal bacterium can be spread from healthy individuals through feeding larvae with contaminated food. Symptoms of the disease include an uneven or patchy brood pattern, dead and discoloured larvae found in uncapped cells and a characteristic "sour" smell. It is one of the only two microbial bee diseases (the other being American Foulbrood) where positive detection in the UK warrants immediate notification to the authorities. This indicates the serious nature of the disease and its potential for rapid spread to other local colonies. This PhD venture will focus on investigating how the bacteria responsible for causing EFB,  Melissococcus plutonius, is transmitted. Additionally, I aim to explore some of the factors that may enhance the bacteria's virulence, which may allow me to identify some management practices that reduce the severity of the disease in beekeepers’ hives. To carry out my PhD I will be collaborating with the National Bee Unit to help collect samples and data, in addition to my own fieldwork to assess the health of UK honeybees. Once I have a clear picture of disease status and trends, I will be using the state-of-the-art microbiology facilities at Imperial College London to safely work with the EFB causal parasite and confirm the conditions that favour and disfavour its growth in honeybee larvae.


Though I have some beekeeper experience to gain, this will not be my first time working with bees and I’m very excited to get started. As an undergraduate student, I joined the Insect Cognition Lab at the Royal Holloway University of London as a volunteer and quickly became mesmerized with bees, appreciative of their invaluable ecological role and curious about their intriguing social behaviour. Since then I took on an individual research project exploring bumblebee social foraging behaviour and have just completed an MRes at University College London, where I explored population genetics of the common wasp and worked with the Natural History Museum in London to model farm management strategies to target herbicide-resistant weeds. Now in 2020, I am embarking on my PhD journey. I hope that this will allow me to apply all of the skills I’ve accumulated so far (and pick up on some new ones!) to guide advice on managing the animals I love most, bees."

Lynfa Davies interviews Monika and her supervisor on her Healthy Bees podcast 

Honey bees are closely aligned with their environment and their health and productivity is influenced by the stressors they encounter. 

Lynfa Davies, Master Beekeeper, NDB, from the Health Bees Academy, talks to Dr Peter Graystock and Monika Yordanova, from Imperial College, London. They discuss whether there are potential triggers that cause apparently healthy hives to develop disease symptoms as well as some top tips to prevent disease from spreading.

Click here to listen.