Towards a Beehive Breathalyser for AFB: Volatile Biomarkers for Non-Invasive Diagnosis

American foulbrood (AFB) is a fatal bacterial disease of honey bee brood caused by the spore forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae. The disease is not able to be cured, meaning that destruction of infected colonies and hives or irradiation of infected material is the only way to manage AFB.

BeeAware, Plant Health Australia

Towards a beehive breathalyser for AFB: Volatile biomarkers for non-invasive diagnosis

In this presentation Jessica Moran discusses her work in developing a beehive breathalyser for American Foulbrood (AFB) which detects volatile biomarkers through a non-invasive diagnostic process. 

Jessica Moran

Jessica Moran is a PhD Candidate and works with the CRC Honey Bee Products: Honey Bee Health Research Group, School of Molecular Sciences, University of Western Australia. Jessica completed her Honours Degree with the Centre for Integrative Bee Research, where she became hooked on honey bees. She is a passionate advocate for the bee industry and biosecurity.

Presentation Synopsis

American FoulBrood (AFB) is the most costly honey bee disease in Australia. Caused by bacterium, Paenibacillus larvae, AFB kills honey bee larvae and converts the cadaver to a fould smelling, spore-laden, glue-like mass. Early detection and intervention is critical to prevent the disease from spreading to nearby hives and apiaries. Although various diagnostic methods have been developed, AFB remains a significant problem for beekeepers. Diagnosis is often slow, generally requiring beekeepers to open hives and visually identify AFB symptoms.

In this project, we investigated the volatile compounds associated with the notoriously foul smell of AFB, to determine if specific compounds could be used as a method for quick and non-invasive diagnosis. We used gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to identify numerous compounds that are significantly elevated in – or exclusive to – AFB-diseased brood, compared to healthy brood.

We further investigated specificity of the compounds for AFB compared to brood that had died of temperature shock or other brood diseases. These biomarker compounds can be used to diagnose AFB-diseased brood with an accuracy of over 97%.

In a follow-up field experiment, we demonstrated that these volatile biomarkers could be detected non-invasively in beehive air. We are know developing sensor surfaces for the biomarkers to create a portable, electronic, diagnostic ‘beehive breathalyser’ device.

The goal of this work is to develop a practical and cost-effective tool that will de-risk high-density beekeeping through improved biosecurity.

Additional information

Please find below some more interesting stories and references to Jessica’s work.

Video prepared for the CRC Association Competition

‘The Cooperative Research Centre (CRCs) Association Early Career Researcher Showcase is a national competition that celebrates science communication. Approximately 50 postgraduate (Masters and PhD) students and early-stage postdoctoral researchers from CRCs competed to clearly and succinctly explain their research, how their project will benefit society, and their individual role in delivering the science.

I’ve always been passionate about science communication and outreach, so I was excited to enter the Early Career Researcher Showcase and put my skills to the test.

There is a wealth of incredible research being completed through the CRC Association and so many amazing, enthusiastic researchers. I felt honoured just to be shortlisted amongst such inspiring researchers, and was shocked when I won. I’m deeply grateful to the Australian bee industry for all of the moral support throughout my PhD and for so many members tuning in to watch the Showcase.’ – Jessica Moran

To view Jessica’s winning showcase presentation click on the video link below.

Media Release for the Beehive Breathalyser Project

To read the media release from the University of Western Australia about the Beehive Breathalyser Project for AFB, click on the link below.
Media Release: Beehive Breathalyser Project for AFB >

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