AUSTRALIA - Researchers have developed a genetic test that can help prevent the spread of infected bees, which threaten hives in Australia.
The news is particularly important in Australia, where bee imports are needed to help hives develop resistance to a native pest.
However, imports have not been possible because foreign bees could carry the Varroa mite, present in all bee-keeping countries except Australia. It devastates colonies by sucking bees' blood and spreading blood-borne diseases.
Studies have previously found that no Australian honeybees have resistance to the mite and it could destroy bee stocks within a couple of years.
Previously, the only answer to this problem was to import Varroa-resistant bee semen and queen bees so Australians could breed resistance into the bee stocks.
Lead author Dr Nadine Chapman, from the University of Sydney, said: "Until now this option has been restricted because Australian beekeepers are only able to import bees from the small number of countries that are free of 'killer bees', which originated in Africa.
"As the name implies, killer bees, (as Africanised bees are commonly called), are highly aggressive and are considered unacceptable for beekeeping."
The researchers developed a test that identifies how much of three main ancestral bee lineages - Eastern European, Western European and African - are present.
To lower the risk of killer bees coming to Australia, those with high African ancestry will be denied entry.
"Having a tool that can identify desirable and undesirable bee subspecies will be of value to breeding and conservation programs throughout the world.
"Pollination of crops by honeybees adds many billions of dollars to the world economy, so any strategy that can prevent losses is an important contribution to food security," Dr Chapman added.
Dr Chapman is now working on making the genetic test more affordable and plans to work with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a protocol for the importation of Varroa-resistant bees.
Australia's bee importation regulations are currently being reviewed by the Department of Agriculture.
The study is published in Molecular Ecology Resources.
TheCropSite News Desk
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