Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Dying Honey Bees Fight Colony Collapse With Resistance Genes

As the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) continues to plague North American honey bees, apiologists have been scrambling to find both the cause and the cure for the disappearance of millions of insects.

According to a report in the open access journal Genome Biology, new research from a group of Canadian scientists may have found a major culprit responsible for the disorder: a parasitic mite known as Varroa destructor.

Researchers found that the tiny mites suck the blood of larval and adult bees, which leaves them weak and more susceptible to infections. This parasitic relationship also increases the risk of viral disease among hosts that already have a relatively weak immune system due to a low number of immunity genes compared to more solitary insects like flies.

The researchers also report that the bees are not without recourse in their battle against the V. destructor menace. At a research apiary in Grand Forks, British Columbia, members of the honey bee colonies were observed removing diseased or parasitized larvae from their brood cells and removing mites from remaining larvae.

This behavior prompted the research team to examine protein differences in larvae and adults that could serve as a signal for the hygienic insects. After analyzing approximately 1,200 proteins, the team found that several proteins that were associated with both the opening of brood cells and the elimination of larvae. Some of the proteins they identified were signals the probably assisted the adult bees in locating infected larvae in a brood.

In addition to identifying the key proteins in adult bees that are responsible for their hygienic behavior, experts spotted a protein in damaged larvae that could also play a key role and uncovered several other larval proteins that help fight off or resist infection.

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