USDA: Algae diet helps honey bees


March 20, 2024



A research team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has developed an edible antiviral treatment that can be used to protect honey bees against Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and other viruses, according to a recent study published in Sustainable Agriculture and an agency news bulletin.

DWV and other viruses have been linked to the deaths of millions of colonies worldwide. DWV, like other viruses, is most often spread by Varroa mites who carry the disease and infect bee colonies. Infection typically causes deformity and death in bees, especially in the pupae and brood.

While there are medicines for other bee diseases and parasites, the bulletin notes, there is currently no treatment available to help beekeepers reduce viruses in their colonies. Nearly all colonies have DWV and can often be infected with multiple viruses at any given time. Effective antiviral treatments could help to improve colony health and survival, as well as crop pollination efficiency.

“We found that engineered algae diets suppressed DWV infection and improved survival in honey bees,” said Dr. Vincent Ricigliano, research scientist at the ARS Honey Bee Laboratory in Baton Rouge, La. “When mixed into bee food, the engineered algae boost the bee’s immune system to fight off the targeted virus.”

Dr. Ricigliano and other ARS researchers previously studied blue-green microscopic algae, also known as microalgae, as a potential food source for honey bees. The algae showed promise because it has a nutritional profile that resembles pollen and is scalable to the level of commercial beekeeping.

“In addition to the nutritional benefits and immune-boosting effects, engineered algae strains have the potential to protect bees against a wide variety of pathogens,” said Ricigliano.

Blue-green algae grow via photosynthesis and can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the bulletin notes, making it an ecologically friendly approach to improve the health of honey bees.

The researchers filed a patent application for the technology, and plan to use variations of it to target additional bee viruses and other pathogens in future studies.

About the Author

Heather Gooch

Heather Gooch is the editor-in-chief for PMP magazine. She can be reached at or 330-321-9754.

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