Mushroom Medicine for Honey Bees is offering exciting new hope for helping honeybees strengthen their immune systems and fight off viruses. Viral challenges are causing misery and disease as well as colony collapse disorder.

Scientists from Washington State University announced in October 2018 that a fungus mycelium extract fed to honey bees greatly reduced virus levels. Colleagues at Fungi Perfecti and the USDA concur. This research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Studies are still in the field trial stage but show a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus, which we discussed in this blog post. Compared to control colonies, there was also a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai viruses, which is spread by varroa mites and found in bees fleeing from collapsing colonies. It is tied to chronic bee paralysis virus.

Steve Sheppard, the WSU entomology professor whose lab is conducting the research, says the treatment is easy to administer. All bees treated lived in small varroa-mite-infected colonies on the WSU premises. The bees were orally fed mycelial extracts of amadou and reishi (see image above) fungi. It is unclear whether the extract strengthened the bees’ immune systems or if it directly fought the viruses. They hope to figure this out as well as how much extract to use and when it will have the most impact. There is also a plan to test larger colonies, so they can arrive at a best management plan to share with beekeepers.

Although testing is still in the early phase, researchers are excited and see vast potential. One of the worst ways varroa mites harm bees is spreading and magnifying a host of viruses. They hope the extracts can impact the viruses to such a degree that varroa mites become a bothersome pest to honey bees rather than being able to devastate a hive and cause Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

This is a race against time for the western honey bee population, as time is running out with many worker bees dying prematurely due to disease weakening their bodies. Pollinator health and much of the world’s food supply are inextricably intertwined, so the survival of humanity depends to a large degree on finding a way to liberate the honeybee from its destroyers.

This first research paper on the subject was co-authored by Steve Sheppard and Paul Stamets, founder and co-owner of Fungi Perfecti. Their collaboration started when Paul read about viruses harming bees and contacted the WSU lab. He had worked on a project showing antiviral properties of mycelium extracts on human cells. They discussed exploring whether the extracts might positively impact honey bees.

Two years later, the pair can demonstrate that those same anti-viral properties do extend to honey bees. Stamets believes this is a great example of connecting the dots between two fields of biological science. In fact, this collaboration could be a game changer not too far down the road.

At the time this paper was released in October 2018, Fungi Perfecti was planning to ramp up extract production. The mycelium extract was not available in levels where beekeepers could purchase it for their hives yet. We will reach out for an update about when it may become available.

Beekeepers, will you treat your bees with mycelium extract when it is readily available?