Genetic Breakthrough Could Save Honeybees From Colony-Destroying Mites

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The varroa mite has been the bane of honeybee colonies, and has even been blamed to a certain extent for colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers have few weapons against the mite, but researchers have just created what could be the answer to dealing with Varroa destructor. By isolating genes that can be tricked into putting the mite in "self-destruct" mode, the scientists may have devised a chemical-free way to help honeybees with a mite infestation. The Guardian reports that researchers from the UK's National Bee Unit and Aberdeen University have created a way to silence the mites' immune response, which prevents their genes from expressing natural functions. So far, they've made the process work on a neutral gene that does nothing to harm the mites, so the next trick is isolating a gene that has the right characteristics to make a mite essentially self-destruct. It is a chemical-free solution that doesn't harm the bees.

The mites on the other hand, have been incredibly harmful to bee populations.

It takes only 1,000 varroa mites to kill a 50,000-bee colony, according to the Guardian. The mites spread viruses and suppress bees' immune systems as they feed on the bees' blood. The mites have already become resistant to a pesticide designed to kill them off. So finding a solution, and fast, has been important.

One beekeeper has bred a variety of bee that practices mutual grooming as a way to fight mites and pests. However, getting the mites to self-destruct in the first place is even more handy.

This research still has awhile to go before it becomes a legitimate option for protecting bees against varroa mites, but for beekeepers watching their hives die off during winter, it's likely a welcome hope.

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