Updated: Oct 5
Dr. Vera Strogolova, co-founder of Strong Microbials, visited Frederick Dunn’s podcast, This is the Way to Bee. Dr. Strogolova shared the story behind Strong Microbials, SuperDFM® HoneyBee, and SuperDFM®+P801, as well as the important role probiotics play in honey bee health. Watch the full interview above and check out our top takeaways below.
Bacteria Creates a Balanced Ecosystem
Dr. Strogolova explained the basic idea of micro-organisms and bacteria. Many people are used to the idea of probiotics for humans and animals, and generally understand how they benefit gut health. Even though bugs and insects are much smaller than animals, they still have a very complex life that includes socialization, organization, and things that are important for the health of the ecosystem.
“Nothing is really sterile. Everything is alive in nature. So, all of the surfaces – each blade of grass – actually have a lot of bacteria and fungi and microorganisms on it. For the most part, it is a pretty balanced ecosystem,” Dr. Strogolova said. “If we are looking at a honey bee gut, there are billions of bacteria in there but it could be a very healthy situation in most cases. Even though some bacteria that are present are pathogenic, usually you have more than one type of bacteria and that balance usually keeps disease at bay.”
Imbalance creates the opportunity for diseases to take over and make honey bees sick. Which is where a boost from the good bacteria in probiotics such as SuperDFM® HoneyBee, and SuperDFM®+P801 can help bees overcome health challenges.
Research is Ongoing
According to Dr. Strogolova, the scientific community is still learning about microbiomes – the community of bacteria that live in the gut – for humans, animals, and insects. Strong Microbials studies the research done by the scientific community on the honey bee microbiome to identify good bacteria to grow in their probiotic formula, then conducts field trials with hundreds of beekeepers to confirm findings and learn and adjust as needed. They are in constant search for the bacteria that could inhibit honey bee pathogens from taking over.
For example, in a study about Colony Collapse Disorder, scientists were looking for a pathogen that would cause CCD or that would make the bees sick.
“They did not find any particular bacteria to pinpoint, but they did see when they compared healthy to sick bees, the sick bees had much less lactic acid bacteria,” Dr. Strogolova said. “Lactic acid bacteria are often used for probiotics and to help with digestion in honeybees, insects, and animals. It’s a class of bacteria that can deliver benefits to the host.”
How to Know if Probiotics Work
It is not easy to study honey bees because there are so many factors – the bees themselves, the geography of a hive location, and diverse beekeeping practices. One way Strong Microbials conducts its research is to work with an apiary and only give SuperDFM® to half of the colonies. This creates a control group because everything else about colonies is the same. From there they track over time: colony size, frames of bees, brood patterns, lab analysis for Nosema and other pathogens, and analysis of lactic acid bacteria, which is the good bacteria that keeps bees healthy.
“We receive very good results and feedback – for the most part everyone is happy. We usually see the most difference when there is a challenge,” Dr. Strogolova said. “With probiotics in other areas of agriculture, it is a rule of thumb that you use probiotics when you have some challenges. In beekeeping there are lot of challenges, including chemical exposure, pesticide exposure in their environment. Bees are different. They forage in a large area and not in land the beekeeper can control. Pollination also exposes them to unfavorable conditions.”
SuperDFM®+P801 was developed for commercial beekeepers as a result of field trials, control groups, and beekeeper feedback. In addition to the 7 bacteria in SuperDFM® HoneyBee, a few years ago Strong Microbials researchers found interesting results showing that Pediococcus helps to protect bees from pesticides. They decided to add an eighth bacteria to create a new product that will perform better for commercial pollinators where bees are exposed to higher levels of pesticides.
“We did a field trial that showed Pediococcus really helps to increase the weight of hives and decrease bee mortality,” Dr. Strogolova said. “Pediococcus stimulate detoxification systems in honey bees. They have enzymes that help them detoxify poisons or chemicals they encounter. Indirectly Pediococcus can bind and absorb some toxins and pesticides.”
Continued research will help Strong Microbials and other bee scientists determine which bacteria help most with pesticides, but most likely it is a combination, according to Dr. Strogolova.
Strong Microbials recommends applying 1 Tablespoon of SuperDFM® once per month. The idea is to target new brood cycles, which happen every couple of weeks, so when the bees come out of their cell, they consume SuperDFM® along with the other hive materials around them, which is where they get bacteria in their gut for the first time. This recommendation is flexible, though.
“It really matters what kind of conditions the bees are exposed to. If there are less challenges, and beekeepers are not really working with bees for two months at a time, then there is no harm in skipping a dose,” Dr. Strogolova said. “Commercial beekeepers tend to do more than one application per month because it coincides with their inspections, and it is important for them to make sure the bees are protected.”
SuperDFM® can be applied to the brood frames or delivered through the hive entrance with the Strong Microbials MicroCloud Applicator. Powdered sugar is used as a carrier for the bacteria, which absorbs moisture, keeps bacteria stable, and is enjoyable for the honey bees to eat.
The bacteria in SuperDFM® is freeze dried, so an unopened bag has a shelf-life of 5 or more years. Once opened, the less humidity the product is exposed to the longer the shelf-life. Storage in low temperatures preserves the bacteria, where temperatures higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit will kill the bacteria. SuperDFM® is packaged in mylar to prevent humidity before it is opened. Once opened, the zip closure can further keep moisture out.
Many hobby beekeepers keep gardens as a way to create an ideal environment for their colonies. Strong Microbials also makes a product called BioMantra, which is made up of soil microbes for plant growth.
BioMantra is not food grade so it should not be consumed, but it has bacteria and fungi that are important for plant roots. The mix can help plants absorb more nutrients from the soil, making them more biologically active, retain more carbon, fix nitrogen into the soil, and help the soil retain more water and more organic matter.
“Using microbes is a natural way to keep things healthy,” Dr. Strogolova said. “Microbes are more sustainable, cleaner, and are just as effective as chemicals and antibiotics to maintain and optimize the health of living beings.”