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New viral threat to bees discovered

The virus is transferred by the wasp western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) and it presents a risk to all types of bees, although honeybees appear to be at a greater risk. Honeybees are similarly at risk to the more established deformed wing virus (which is spread by the mite Varroa destructor.)

The virus has been named Moku, which relates to the Hawaiian Island where it was first detected. The virus was identified through different tests conducted at different research centers. The data was collated by the Platforms & Pipelines Group at the Earlham Institute, led by Dr. Purnima Pachori. The most complex aspect involved prizing out the genetic material and to separate the viral material from that of the host organism. This was helped through the application of next generation gene sequencing techniques.

The virus is a member of the family Iflavirus. This is a family of positive sense RNA insect-infecting viruses. For the analysis isolates from several different wasps were studied. It was found that the variation between strains of Moku across the wasp samples studied was small (only a 98 percent sequence difference). This provides an additional indication about the likely future spread of the virus.

In his research note, Dr. Purnima states: “It’s brilliant that our computational biology expertise at EI could contribute to the characterisation of a new virus which can be a threat to pollinator health worldwide.”

The significance of the virus is that while incidences remain low the potential for the virus to be spread is high, given that a wasp is the vector. The patterns of viral transmission and the implications require further study.

The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research is titled “Moku virus; a new Iflavirus found in wasps, honey bees and Varroa.”

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