Spotlight on Research: Jessica Moran on the Development of Beehive Breathalysers

Jessica Moran is a PhD candidate and a member of the Honey Bee Health Research Group. She is currently involved in the development of a ‘beehive breathalyser’ to diagnose American FoulBrood (AFB), the most costly honey bee disease in Australia.

Jessica recently presented her research as a part of the SAAA Virtual Conversation Series. She has been very passionate about sharing her work.

  • Watch her presentation at the Cooperative Research Centre (CRCs) Association Early Career Researcher Showcase here.
  • Listen to her chat with Dr Tony Peacock and the ABC’s Adam Shirley on ABC Mornings here.

Towards a Beehive Breathalyser for AFB: Volatile Biomarkers for Non-invasive Diagnosis

Jessica’s presentation for the SAAA Virtual Conversation Series

Presentation Synopsis

American FoulBrood (AFB) is the most costly honey bee disease in Australia. Caused by bacterium, Paenibacillus larvae, AFB kills honey bee larvae and converts the cadaver to a foul-smelling, spore-laden, glue-like mass. Early detection and intervention are critical to prevent the disease from spreading to nearby hives and apiaries. Although various diagnostic methods have been developed, AFB remains a significant problem for beekeepers. Diagnosis is often slow, generally requiring beekeepers to open hives and visually identify AFB symptoms.

In this project, we investigated the volatile compounds associated with the notoriously foul smell of AFB, to determine if specific compounds could be used as a method for quick and non-invasive diagnosis. We used gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to identify numerous compounds that are significantly elevated in – or exclusive to – AFB-diseased brood, compared to healthy brood.

We further investigated the specificity of the compounds for AFB compared to brood that had died of temperature shock or other brood diseases. These biomarker compounds can be used to diagnose AFB-diseased brood with an accuracy of over 97%.

In a follow-up field experiment, we demonstrated that these volatile biomarkers could be detected non-invasively in beehive air. We are now developing sensor surfaces for the biomarkers to create a portable, electronic, diagnostic ‘beehive breathalyser’ device.

The goal of this work is to develop a practical and cost-effective tool that will de-risk high-density beekeeping through improved biosecurity.

Click here to learn more about Jessica and her research.