Scientists may finally be making progress in understanding how bees are vaccinated before birth.

Researchers have been aware of pre-formed bee immunity for some time, but the exact process through which it occurs has puzzled scientists for years. A new study may throw new light onto the subject, according to AOL.

Study Explains How Bees Are Immunized Before Birth

Scientists gain new insight into the immune system of bees

A team of scientists from around the world have published a new study in the journal PLOS Pathogens, suggesting that pre-formed bee immunity is linked to a common protein found in their blood.

The queen bee generally does not move around very much, and forager bees bring her the food that she needs to survive. On their search for food, the forager bees come into contact with pathogenic bacteria. This bacteria is contained in the pollen and nectar they collect and later bring back to the hive to be fed to the queen as part of the “royal jelly.”

Over time, as the queen digests the bacteria, they begin to be stored in her “fat body,” an organ which performs a similar function to the liver in vertebrates. Scientists have now discovered that some of the pathogens become bound to vitellogenin protein which then passes to the developing eggs.

As the bacteria are already present in the eggs as they grow, the baby bees are born with an immune system strengthened against diseases which are found in their specific environment.

Exciting news for conservation efforts

Professor Gro Amdam, co-author of the study, said, “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.”

One application of the discovery could be an edible bee vaccine, which would protect them from infectious diseases. Researchers around the world are concerned by the declining population of bees due to global warming and other factors.

Healthy bee populations are essential for the success of agriculture due to the fact that many crops rely on bees for pollination. The issue has recently started to receive some of the attention that it deserves, but more work must be done to safeguard bee populations.