07/12/2016 4 min

The Sophia Antipolis Laboratory: 40 years of research and reference activities

Since its creation, ANSES's Sophia Antipolis Laboratory has established itself as a national and international reference in bee and ruminant health. Indeed, since 1976, it has been awarded five national, European and international reference mandates for bee health and bee matrices, as well as the national reference mandate and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reference mandate for Q fever. This year, 2016, is thus an opportunity to take stock of 40 years of reference activities dedicated to animal health. Moreover, its location at the heart of the Sophia Antipolis international technology centre, in an area boasting a dynamic beekeeping sector, helps raise the profile of the scientific community at the regional level, through research agreements and projects conducted in partnership with regional scientific centres of excellence.

The Sophia Antipolis Laboratory specialises in the study of the main bee diseases and bee poisoning phenomena, and certain ruminant diseases, especially Q fever. As such, it implements research projects based on observations in the field and provides scientific and technical support to veterinary services (supervision of networks of accredited laboratories, development of detection, identification and quantification methods, provision of reference reagents, expert appraisal of diagnostic tools, etc.).

Reference laboratory for bee health

For some regulated or emerging pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites) or chemical contaminants of major importance, the health authorities need an effective surveillance system based on a network of reliable laboratories to conduct the official analyses.
For each regulated pathogen or contaminant requiring surveillance, the health authorities designate accredited laboratories for conducting analyses, as well as a "reference" laboratory. This reference laboratory ensures the reliability of the analyses carried out by all the accredited laboratories.

Since 1976, the Sophia Antipolis Laboratory has established itself as the reference in its field of expertise. Thus, in the field of bee health, it holds three reference mandates and is involved in two national mandates on screening for pesticides in bee matrices. It coordinates a network of eight accredited laboratories at the French level, and 27 national reference laboratories at the European level.

In particular, in 2011, ANSES's Sophia Antipolis Laboratory was appointed as the European Union Reference Laboratory for bee health, a key step that acknowledges the efforts put into the research and reference activities in this area over the past few years. This mission and the resources it provides, through the strengthening of skills in microbiology and epidemiology, have led to significant advances in understanding the multiple factors responsible for the disorders affecting bee colonies, thanks in particular to the European Epilobee survey, an extensive epidemiological surveillance programme in Europe that is seeking to better characterise the phenomenon of excess bee mortality. The data obtained in the framework of this programme are currently still being analysed, with the aim of identifying the different factors that can influence colony mortality.

In this context, the laboratory is continuing its research to develop and validate ever more powerful analytical methods for the diagnosis of bee diseases and their pathogens, and for the detection and identification of the pesticide residues that are most hazardous to bee health.

Furthermore, the laboratory took part in the expert appraisal led by ANSES on the issue of co-exposure of bees to various stress factors and their respective roles in bee colony weakening, collapse and mortality, with an emphasis on the interactions between these factors. This expert appraisal highlighted the multifactorial nature of the causes of bee colony mortality, and emphasised the role of co-exposure to pesticides and infectious agents in determining their collapse.

Reference laboratory for Q fever

The Sophia Antipolis Laboratory holds the national reference mandate and World Organisation for Animal Health reference mandate for Q fever, a zoonotic disease that can have a major impact on public health and farming.

To limit the clinical impact and spread of Q fever in ruminant herds and towards the human population, the Laboratory develops, improves and assesses tools for detecting the bacterium responsible for the disease, conducts epidemiological research in order to contribute knowledge on the survival of this bacterium in the environment and on the virulence characteristics of strains, takes part in studies on the assessment of control and prevention measures, participates in expert appraisal work at the national and European levels in the framework of the drafting of recommendations and opinions, takes part in the national platform for epidemiological surveillance in animal health on abortions in ruminants, and contributes to veterinary field investigations during outbreaks of clustered human cases.

What next for the laboratory?

In the coming years, the Laboratory aims to pursue its reference and research work on:

  • understanding the causes of weakening and mortality of bees and colonies, by addressing both the main microbiological and parasitic hazards of bees, and the chemical contaminants that can affect bee health in isolation or simultaneously. It will continue its main actions to characterise these hazards while focusing on assessing their effects alone or in co-exposure. It will continue to invest in documenting and understanding weakening through epidemiological surveillance of colony losses and bee diseases, while seeking to take the impact of pesticides into account ;
  • bee diseases, in particular by participating in the programmes launched by the European Commission and EFSA on the risks incurred by bees, taking into account the pesticide risk and the impact of co-exposure (biological agents and nutrition) ;
  • biological hazards, by pursuing work on the agent responsible for Q fever: development of tools for detecting bacterial reservoirs of the agent of Q fever, characterisation and molecular dynamics of strains of C. burnetii, studies on the viability and virulence of strains.