Researchers in Sweden are attempting to solve problems of antibiotic resistance and bee deaths in one by studying healthy lactic acid bacteria in the stomachs of wild honey bees.
Three universities have collaborated in Sweden to analyse the findings, with
Lund University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Karolinska Institutet all detailing evidence that could be a step towards preventing bee deaths and antibiotic resistance in humans.
The research has now been published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, with accompanying images from science photographer Professor Lennart Nilsson from Karolinska Institutet, who has illustrated the findings.
Alejandra Vasquez, a researcher at Lund University, said: "In our previous studies, we have looked at honey bees in Sweden. What we have now found from our international studies is that, historically, people of all cultures have consumed the world's greatest natural blend of healthy bacteria in the form of honey."
There are known to be billions of healthy lactic acid bacteria of 13 different types in wild and fresh honey compared to only one to three types that are usually found in commercial probiotic products. The honey bess have used these bacteria for 80 million years to produce and protect their honey and their bee pollen, which is produced to feed the bee colony.
The new research has shown that healthy lactic acid bacteria fights two of the most serious bacterial diseases that affect honey bees. Large quantities of harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi are found in the nectar and pollen that the bees collect from flowers to make honey and bee bread. However, rather than destroying the food through fermentation, the healthy bacteria in the honey stomach kills the microorganisms before they can get to work.
Mr Vasquez concludes: "As humans have learnt to use honey to treat sore throats, colds and wounds, our hypothesis is that the healthy bee bacteria can also kill harmful disease bacteria in humans. We have preliminary, unpublished results which show that this could be a new tool to complement or even replace antibiotics."