Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scientists launch fightback against mite that is wiping out our bees... by making it self-destruct


A honeybee with a Varroa mite (circled) attached to it. Conservation groups are welcoming a breakthrough in the battle against the deadly mite responsible for decimating the honeybee population

For 20 years it has ruthlessly attacked Britain's hives - wiping out millions of bees and bringing misery to honey producers.

But now scientists have launched the fightback against the invasive, blood sucking varroa mite parasite - the world's biggest killer of bees.

The bug drills a hole in the honey bee's back and drinks its blood while injecting viruses to suppress the bee's immune system leaving it vulnerable to disease.

Attempts tried to wipe it out but they failed as it becomes increasingly resistant to chemicals.

Now researchers have developed a new technique that turns off genes in the pest's DNA, forcing the bugs to self-destruct.

Although the treatment is still experimental, it could eventually kill the mites without harming bees within years.

The breakthrough won't come soon enough for Britain's beleaguered honey bees - in England alone the population has shrunk by 54 per cent since the 1980s as a result of the varroa mite, pesticides, industrial farming and disease.

Farmers say the decline could be disastrous for agriculture because bees are vital for pollinating crops and are worth an estimated £200 million to farming each year.

A varrao mite. The tiny creatures infect bees with viruses suppressing their immune system

The new treatment would allow beekeepers to treat the parasites without harming the bees. Currently they have to use pesticides.

Prof Francis Ratnieks, a bee researcher from the University of Sussex, said it could be a long time before it was used on British bees.

'It may be possible to use gene knockout techniques such as RNAi to learn more about the physiology of pests and to use this to develop ways of controlling them, maybe by the development and application of novel pesticides,' he told the BBC.

source: dailymail

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