Beekeepers will have an opportunity to hone their craft at a conference this weekend in Cheyenne.
The University of Wyoming Extension’s Catherine Wissner founded the Wyoming Bee College several years ago, because she was fielding a bunch of calls from people who were trying to raise bees. The training teaches people to care for hives as well as how to create habitat for native pollinators. This year, participants can choose between several all-day workshops on Friday, along with classes in four different tracks Saturday and Sunday.
Dr. Sandra Hope from Brigham Young University will deliver Sunday’s keynote address. She has been researching a new method of treating foulbrood, a bacterial disease that kills bee larvae. It can spread naturally or through the tools beekeepers use, and if the disease persists, Hope said beekeepers have to burn their hives. But Hope has been studying the use of viruses called phages, which infect specific bacteria, to treat the bees. She said compared with antibiotics, this strategy is less likely to result in resistant strains of the infection.
“We have a whole panel of different phages that we’ve captured from different places across the United States,” Hope said, “and some of them are better at killing specific strains of the bacteria, and others are better at killing other strains of the bacteria.”
So if one phage becomes less effective, the researchers can swap it with a new phage that does basically same thing. In addition, phages can adapt with the bacteria, eventually overcoming the resistant genes. Hope said using phages is also healthier for bees.
“If you over-treat with an antibiotic, the honeybee can literally get diarrhea; just like a person, if you over-treat, then you can lose some of your normal healthy bacteria. And that’s because antibiotic chemicals are specifically just trying to hit a mechanism that all bacteria have in common,” Hope said.
Hope coauthored a study that found that phages were effective in preventing the disease and treating hives that were already infected. She is now trying to get the method approved by the FDA.