Pollination by insects such as honey bees is essential for the health of ecosystems and the production of food. Therefore, it is important to diagnose diseases in honey bees in order to limit the spread of these diseases to other colonies.
The national reference laboratory for bee diseases is in charge of the diagnosis of notifiable diseases in honey bees. In Belgium, there are five of them: American foulbrood, European foulbrood, the tracheal mite, the Tropilaelaps mite and the small hive beetle. In addition, we also study other bee diseases and parasites (e.g. Nosema spp., the Varroa mite and several bee viruses). The national reference laboratory for bee diseases analyses samples taken by beekeepers, the Food Safety Agency and private companies.
The national reference laboratory for bee diseases diagnoses five notifiable diseases in honey bees: American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae), European foulbrood (Melissococcus plutonius), the tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi), the Tropilaelaps mite (Tropilaelaps sp.) and the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida). Currently, two of these diseases are present in Belgium: Paenibacillus larvae and Melisscoccus plutonius. We usually perform our analyses on bee brood (larvae), but also fully grown bees and honey can be examined for certain diseases. The NRL uses different methods depending on the disease being detected: dissection, microscopy, bacteriological analysis and molecular methods. Our diagnostic methods for Paenibacillus larvae and Melisscoccus plutonius by molecular analysis are accredited by BELAC.
The national reference laboratory for bee diseases is also a partner in the Horizon 2020 project B-GOOD: “Giving Beekeeping Guidance by Computational-Assisted Decision Making”, which supports beekeepers and helps them to make more sustainable choices for their bee colonies.