Gene study targets bee threat

Research efforts targeted on discovering suitable pesticide to rid bees of parasitic varroa mite.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and the National Bee Unit, which is part of the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA), have worked out how to knock down genes in the parasitic varroa mite, causing it to die.

More than £250,000 in funding has come from Government-funded Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council and honeybee health product company Vita (Europe) to help make the laboratory-based research practical for beekeepers.

Dr Alan Bowman, who is heading the research, said honeybees' pollination of flowers is declining because of varroa but the money will help develop a pesticide to turn the mite's immune system in on itself.

He added that he hoped to identify the critical gene by the end of 2012. Trials will be conducted in 2013 with the goal of making a mass-use product available in four or five years for administering as a feed to bees.

Vita technical director Max Watkins said: "Finding treatments that kill varroa mites but don't harm the honeybees, bee products or the environment is not easy. That is why we are supporting this exciting and innovative research."

FERA National Bee Unit research coordinator Dr Giles Budge added: "It is particularly exciting to see our work move from the bench into products that could become commercially available to help beekeepers."

The researchers will create and scour databases of all the varroa genes in an attempt to identify the ones that can be targeted effectively and safely by any new treatments that may emerge.

Bee Cause Habitat-creation campaign

Friends of the Earth has launched its Bee Cause campaign to save the honeybee after the University of Reading found that it would cost the UK £1.8bn every year to hand-pollinate crops without the bees - a total that is 20 per cent higher than was previously thought.

Friends of the Earth is also creating a temporary 150sq m wild flower meadow in the shadow of the National Theatre, London, to highlight the need for more bee-friendly habitats, including cutting pesticide use, and to encourage gardening that will help bees to thrive.

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