Entry Barred for Killer Bees

Scientists develop genetic test to help honey bee industry in Australia.

Jul 23, 2015
New genetic test may help Australia breed Varroa-resistant honey bees.

New genetic test may help Australia breed Varroa-resistant honey bees.

Researchers from Australia and Canada have been working together to find a solution to an interesting problem – how to let in bees with good characteristics for breeding while keeping out those with undesirable ones? A clever solution may be the answer.

As the only large landmass in the world where there is currently no Varroa mite, Australia is in an enviable position. There is concern, however, that it will only be a matter of time until the destructive pest spreads there too, devastating their honey bee colonies.

To combat this looming threat, researchers from University of Sydney in Australia and York University in Canada have worked together to develop a genetic test to identify “killer” bees.
As Australian honey bees do not have resistance to Varroa mite, it is hoped that by importing honey bees from other regions, it will be possible to breed resistance into bee stocks to protect them. Up until now though, it was only possible to import from a small number of countries which were free from “killer” bees to prevent import of bees with undesirable traits.
Now, with the new test which is highly accurate, Australia would be able to import honey bees with resistance to Varroa mites from countries where killer bees are present, including the USA, and send any back which have unwanted “killer” bee genes.

“Having a tool that can identify desirable and undesirable bee subspecies will be of value in breeding and conservation programs throughout the world” said Dr. Nadine Chapman from the School of Biological Sciences at Sydney University, who won a CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Award for this work.

The researcher is currently working with others on making the genetic test more affordable as it could make an important contribution to food security in Australia which produces an estimated $4 - $6 billion of farm and garden crops that rely on honey bee pollination.
With so much at stake, this could be a very useful tool indeed.

Read more about the new genetic test.

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