The Foster Method: published in The Journal of Apiculture Research

February 08, 2024 – a world-first method, developed by dnature, to assist beekeepers in detecting the devastating disease, American Foulbrood (AFB) in beehives has been published in the Journal of Apiculture search.

AFB is a bacterial disease that has the potential to decimate beekeeper livelihoods if left unchecked, and in New Zealand, under the 1993 Biosecurity Act, all bees and hiveware must be burnt, if the disease is detected. However other beehive issues can mask the signs of the disease making visual detection difficult at particular times of the beekeeping year.

“Prior to COVID-19, the idea that we had of using swabs to run a beehive DNA test seemed completely left-field”, says John Mackay, “but of course since the pandemic, this idea makes complete sense”. dnature has been involved in PCR testing in the apiculture industry (among others) for over 10 years, including for AFB testing but one of the previous barriers was that beekeepers have to lever open heavy beehives to inspect young bees and to retrieve samples. The dnature team hypothesised that while a sample from the hive entrance would be easier to use, could they detect sufficient levels of the bacteria just at the entrance?

dnature engaged a team of local Tairāwhiti and national beekeepers and contributed the test to a project with a longstanding Otago/Southland beekeeper group, once the method had been developed and refined. This process of ensuring the test accuracy by quantifying the levels of the bacteria versus the risk of disease occurred over a 6 year period and was released commercially by dnature in 2021. The method can detect the disease even before visual signs are apparent.

Since the early reports of the team’s work, this swab methodology from hive entrances has now been used to test for varroa during the recent incursion in Australia for bee pathogens in the USA & other countries. As described in the peer-reviewed international publication released earlier this month, it also shows great promise for detecting other biosecurity pests not present in New Zealand.


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