Honey bees Fight Back Colony Collapse Disorder
Images showing honey bee foraging
How do honey bees help us?
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are tiny little creatures which help human beings in multiple ways. Apart from honey and bee hive products which are sold for huge economic returns, honey bees make many of our favorite foods reach our dining tables. They pollinate a large number of flowering / fruit plants including apples, berries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa, almonds, etc and their yield depends solely on the pollination by honey bees. Fruits are not only cherished because of their taste but they are the good source of nutrients like vitamins which act as antioxidants in our body. Hence, honey bees increase the nutritional quality of the food. Honey bees have been referred to as key species as they maintain a balance between different food chains.
Unfortunately, beekeeping industry has incurred great losses in the recent past due to “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD). This disease has caused a serious decline in the population of honey bees. This article explains how honey bees are trying to fight back CCD. Research in this line will help us to safeguard our bee population and. keep us healthy indirectly.
What is Colony Collapse Disorder?
The incidence of CCD was first recognized in 2006 when many beekeepers reported about 30-90% loss of bee hives. Such sort of huge losses of honey bee colonies were reported earlier also and scientists are not sure about the exact cause of this decline in the population. This disorder is marked by very low or almost negligible number of honey bees in the bee hive. The queen bee remains in the hive and the honey is left untouched. Immature bees (brood) are present in the beehive
Know more about how Varroa mites affect the bee population
How do Varroa mites affect the honey bees?
Varroa mites are often found in the hives affected by CCD. Varroa mites feed on the hemolymph (a combination of blood and fluid) of the larval and adult honey bees. As a result, the honey bees are left weakened and subsequently, their weakened immune system is not sufficient to fight against infections. In comparison to flies, honey bees have fewer immunity genes and Varroa mites weaken the immune system further. The scientists at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed honey bees with new genetic trait which can toss the Varroa mites out of their hive.
Mechanism of self defense of honey bees against Varroa mites
Honey bees are naturally hygienic and respond to the hive infections. The infested larvae are removed from the beehive by the adult bees. Scientists have isolated a protein, LOC552009, from the antennae of the adult bees which was specifically related to their behavior of uncapping the brood cells and removal of the infested larvae lying within. The protein, transglutaminase, was found to be upregulated in damaged larvae. This protein modulates the behavior of the adults
After a thorough analysis of the natural behavior of honey bees, scientists have developed honey bees with a new genetic trait, Varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) trait. These honey bees clean the bee hive and are highly focused towards the varroa-infested pupae. These bees chase the mites aggressively, gang up, chew and cut through the brood cap. The infected brood is lifted along with the mites and removed from the nest. This safeguards the remaining larvae in the nest and does not allow the infection to spread.
Till now bee keepers were interested in honey bees with characteristic traits such as greater honey production, better adaptation to the climatic conditions, etc. Now beekeepers need to select the bees which can resist Varroa mite infestation.
Other things to be considered by beekeepers
Modification of the diet of honey bees can help them to defend Varroa mites to a large extent. Currently, the bees in the commercial bee hives are fed on high-fructose corn syrup or sugar water rather that on the natural nectar and pollen. Research has shown that wild honey bees which forage on a variety of flowers show an increased expression of detoxification genes that keep honey bees healthy. p-coumaric acid from honey was identified to be a strongest inducer of the detoxification genes.
Further research in the line will help to boost up the graying hobby of bee keeping.
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