Humans rely on honey bees for food security. Because they will pollinate almost anything, honey bees are extremely useful for agriculture. But over the past few decades, the honey bee population has experienced dramatic declines caused by the effects of multiple stressors, the most pervasive of which is limited nutrition. IU researchers have identified a specific bacterial microbe that, when fed to honey bee larvae, can reduce the effects of nutritional stress on developing bees. Biology Professor Irene Newton says the effects of poor nutrition are most damaging in the developing larvae of honey bees, who mature into workers unable to meet the needs of their colony. Honey bee larvae are fed by their sister bees. Their diet consists of foraged ingredients such as nectar and pollen, as well as royal jelly – a bee glandular secretion that is complex and nutrient rich. If larvae are destined to be queens, they will eat royal jelly their whole lives. If they are workers, their diets will shift to nectar and pollen after a few days. In addition to being more nutritious than nectar and pollen, royal jelly has long been known to possess potent antimicrobial properties due to its acidity, viscosity and the presence of antimicrobial peptides. Newton says this means that most microbes exposed to royal jelly die. However, in their new study, Newton and her research team found that a specific microbe – "Bombella apis" – is the only larva-associated bacterium that's actually able to thrive in royal jelly. They also found that "B. apis" makes royal jelly more nutritious by significantly increasing its amino acid content, which helps developing bees build resilience against nutritional stress. The results suggest that "B. apis" may have potential as a key supplement in future beekeepers' efforts to counteract the negative influence of poor nutrition on honey bee health. The microbe can survive for over 24 hours in sugar water, so beekeepers who are already supplementing their colonies could potentially integrate a "B. apis" probiotic into their bees' diets.
In other news, President Joe Biden recently called upon Congress to temporarily suspend the tax levied on gasoline at the federal level to help struggling Americans at the pump. The current tax rate for a gallon of gas is set at 18 cents. This relief, also known as a “gas tax holiday,” would last 90 days. IU’s Sanya Carley, a professor of public and environmental affairs, says millions of Americans face material hardship daily, and energy costs are a primary contributor. In a recent study, Carley and her colleagues found that 28 percent of all low-income households struggled to pay their energy bills from November 2021 through January 2022, and 38 percent carried debt on their utility accounts. Households with vulnerable members, such as small children or people with chronic health issues, are especially burdened by energy expenses than other groups. Carley says Biden’s gas tax holiday could provide some temporary relief to impoverished Americans. However, she says it may not be the most effective form of relief, largely due to its temporary nature. Instead, she proposes that other forms of relief, such as helping Americans weatherize their homes or providing direct assistance for food and energy spending, would offer larger and more lasting benefits.