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Scientists "Sketch" Genetic Profile of
Honeybee Attacker By Jan Suszkiw
Mapping a key genetic component of the varroa mite is in the
works to expedite studies aimed at monitoring the tiny, bloodsucking parasite
and minimizing its harm to honey bees.
Service scientists are mapping genes in mitochondria. In the cells of
varroa mites and other organisms, including honey bees and human beings,
mitochondria function as tiny power plants that fuel the cells metabolic
machinery. Of specific interest to ARS entomologist Jay Evans is variation in
the genes encoded within the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of the varroas
mitochondria. Compared to the mites entire genome, mitochondrial DNA
(mtDNA) contains fewer genes--and these genes are easier to identify.
Using standard molecular procedures, including polymerase chain
reaction, or PCR, Evans and coworkers at the
ARS Bee Research
Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., have decoded the sequence for most of the
Once finished, theyll look for genetic markers associated
with particular traits of interest, such as virulence (destructiveness in honey
bee hives) and pesticide resistance.
Also of interest is using the markers to help resolve taxonomic
uncertainties surrounding the mites identity and origins as a honey bee
pest. And the marker technology should help identify any new, accidental
introductions of the varroa mite. Since arriving in Florida in the 1980s, the
mite has spread across the nation to become a top pest of both feral and
managed honey bees, whose crop-pollinating activity is considered a $14-billion
asset to agriculture.
About a millimeter long, the reddish-brown varroa mite can kill
or weaken adult and larval bees by sucking their blood and can also expose bees
to diseases, according to Evans. Severe attacks that go unchecked can easily
destroy an entire hive, he adds.
A longer story about Evans research appears in the
June issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.