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article imageLessons from bee-killing parasites

By Tim Sandle     Jul 6, 2015 in Science
Around the world bees are at risk from pesticides, environmental conditions and parasite infestations. New research into bee mites suggests we can learn a lot about parasites in general and find ways to protect bee colonies.
The bee parasitic mite, the aptly named Varroa destructor, can destroy an entire bee colony within a couple of years. The mite destroys bee larvae and makes adult bees disorientated, leading them to be unable to navigate back to the hive.
While certain chemical pesticides can help to combat the mites, as with many organisms, the mites develop resistance and a battle unfolds between bee keepers and mites to find ways to destroy the destructive pests.
Bees are of great importance to agriculture, through pollination, and thus to the economy of most nations. Mite infestations are growing in intensity in North America and in Europe.
A collaborative effort between Chinese bioagricultural and Japanese cell physiological laboratories has discovered some plant-derived chemical alternatives to standard pesticides that might help to stem the rise in mites and avoid the mites becoming resistant to the treatment. By being plant-based, the pesticides are less harmful to the environment.
These plant chemicals are designed to block the way that mites track down bees. The chemical appears to work on a sensor protein located on the front leg of the mites (called transient receptor potential channel.) The chemical does not appear to affect bees.
This has led the researchers to theorize that the protein is an evolutionary development with the parasite, enabling it to sense out bees and bee colonies. Knowing this could lead to other chemicals being used to block other types of parasites. Types of the transient receptor potential channel proteins are known to exist in many living creatures. For example, such proteins help organisms to sense temperature and aromas.
Some initial studies have shown that the chemical can influence the protein channel in the Varroa mite, and stop them from entering honeybee colonies.
The new research has been published in the journal Cell Reports. The paper is titled “Plant-derived tick repellents activate the honey bee ectoparasitic mite TRPA1.”
More about Bees, Parasites, Mites, Varroa destructor
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