BDI and Somerset BKA fund research into a unique strain of EFB

January 2021 - Research has started into the virulent ST2 strain of EFB which is uniquely associated with Somerset and north Dorset.

ST2 has been found in this part of the country for at least 10 years with very few outbreaks of other sequence types.

BDI and Somerset BKA are jointly funding PhD student Hollie Pufal at Newcastle University over the next four years. She will investigate this local EFB cluster using modern molecular methods in an attempt to improve the understanding of disease transmission and discover why this disease cluster is so persistent in the area.

A few years ago BDI asked Fera to undertake further research into EFB and funded Dr Ed Haynes to develop a bioinformatics pipeline to sequence genomes of the causal agent, Melissococcus plutonius, which revealed that there were different strains of EFB.

Hollie will refine this protocol and use it to assess transmission events using Somerset as the case study. She will be working with beekeepers across the county as well as with NBU Bee Inspectors to improve local disease control measures.

EFB is the most prevalent bacterial brood disease in England and Wales with up to 350 cases each year and, in some years, Somerset had the dubious distinction of having the highest number of cases.

Hollie said: “Having worked with plants for the last few years I am new to the bee world, but I am looking forward to learning more about their fascinating behaviours and to a new challenge.”

Hollie is supervised by Professor Giles Budge, co-supervised by Professor Steve Rushton both from Newcastle University, Dr Ed Haynes from Fera Science Ltd as well as BDI.

For more about Hollie and the project, click here.

Autumn 2021 - update

Thank you for your generous funding that has allowed me to pursue research in this exciting area. Over the past 6 months I have been establishing methods to develop a molecular workflow that could be used to generate whole genome sequencing data from infected larvae at outbreak sites, I also tested supers from infected apiaries for the presence of EFB.

I tested 4 locations on each frame for the presence of EFB, as well as capped honey and pollen, using DNA extractions and Realtime PCR. The results showed only a small trace of EFB in a couple of samples both from the frame, pollen and honey.

I plan to sequence using handheld sequencing technology, which is a cheaper and more efficient sequencing platform, so has the potential to be used more readily in the future for assessing EFB outbreaks. The issue with sequencing infected larvae material is that most of the sequence generated will be honeybee DNA, so I originally tested various methods that deplete the bee DNA and enrich the bacterial DNA. Initially I used homogenised larvae mixed with M.plutonius culture and then I moved on to infected larvae from the field. I used qPCR assays to detect both EFB and insect DNA to assess the efficiency of the depletion methods, and I now have a selection of promising methods that I will take forward to sequencing and assess the quality.

Spring 2021 - update

I started at Newcastle University in September 2020 and over the past 6 months I have settled into the research environment and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have been reading the literature and becoming familiar with the laboratories at Newcastle University. I am currently investigating the distribution of Melissococcus plutonius in some honey supers that were taken from colonies adjacent to a colony with EFB. This will allow me to establish techniques and purchase the correct consumables that will be required throughout this research project, but it will also help identify whether supers can be a risk for disease spread.

I have been in touch with the NBU inspectors from the South West and am planning some meetings with the local bee inspectors and beekeeping associations to discuss the persistent outbreak of EFB in Somerset and surrounding counties.