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Laboratory diagnosis

The NBU/Fera laboratory diagnostic team provides a rapid, modern diagnostic service for both the NBU Inspectorate and beekeepers.

The diagnostic tests are carried out according to the principles established by the Office International des Epizooties, now known as the World Organisation for Animal Health. Notably the Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals, and methods developed in house by the novel diagnostics and research teams in Fera. The OIE is the world organisation responsible for standardising diagnostic tests for animal pests and diseases and oversees the rules governing trade.

Honey bees are affected by a number of pests and diseases, some affecting the developing brood, and others the adult bees or the brood material itself. American and European foulbrood (AFB and EFB) are two distinct bacterial diseases of honeybees and both are notifiable under the Bee Diseases and Pests Control Orders 2006.

We identify the presence of all pests and diseases from samples submitted to the NBU/Fera Laboratories by our Appointed Bee Inspectors (ABIs) as statutory samples or from beekeepers as voluntary samples.

Diagnosis of Foulbrood Diseases

The diagnosis of AFB and EFB varies from the simple but effective (Microscopic analysis) to the more sophisticated (e.g. Molecular methods such as Real time PCR ).

Imported Bees 

Attendant worker bees that have been imported with queens from designated third countries, are also routinely checked for the presence of exotic pests. See section on Imports and Exports

Exotic Pests

Small hive beetle (SHB), Aethina tumida and Tropilaelaps spp. are both statutorily notifiable. Tropilaelaps spp. has not been found in the UK or Europe and SHB has not been found in the UK, but so far, is only present in southern Italy in continental Europe. If either of these pests are introduced into the UK, they could potentially cause major economic damage to the apiculture sector if they became established. The NBU Inspectorate carries out surveillance for these pests and beekeepers are strongly encouraged to monitor their hives for their presence, and diagnoses are carried out by the NBU laboratory staff.


DNA sequencing is a vital part of Fera research into pathogen identification, environmental microbiology and genomics. Fera has invested in Pyrosequencing, a powerful new technology which enables them to sequence samples with unprecedented depth. At the core of their sequencing facility is a Roche GS FLX Pyrosequencer, backed up by powerful sequence processing hardware and a team of technicians and bioinformaticians. This technology is being applied to support the Bee Health Programme.