Researchers attempt to protect bees from parasites

By Krystle Wagner (Last updated: 12/09/09 9:46pm)

MSU researchers are one step closer to protecting honeybees from parasites.

Entomology professor Ke Dong led a group of MSU researchers in finding why varroa mites — parasites that kill the bees — are resistant to tetrodotoxin, a poisonous insecticide compound used to kill the parasites.

Dong said researchers compared gene sequences of the parasites to look at the sodium channel mutation to find which genes are responsible for insecticide resistance. The project’s results were published in the December issue of “The Journal of Biological Chemistry.”

“We looked in to sodium channel genes and found mutations in the gene,” Dong said. “You have a susceptible insecticide population and resistant population.”

Entomology associate professor Zachary Huang, who worked on the project, said bees play a role in the pollination of apples, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, peaches and other foods.

“Those fruits and vegetables depend on bees and mites kill bees,” Huang said. “We are trying to find new ways to control the mites because they become resistant to chemicals.”

Project GREEEN, an MSU-based plant agriculture initiative, provided $84,000 in initial funding from 2003 to 2004. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, funded the project from September 2004 through August 2007 and BASF funded the project in 2008. Researchers spent the past year writing the project’s results, Dong said.

“Our study demonstrates (that) a sodium channel can be expressed without any other protein,” Dong said.

Judy Schmaltz, owner of Jodi Bee Honey Farm, Inc., in Clarkston, Mich., said she hopes it might become a way to save the honeybees on her farm.

“We lose a lot of bees over winter,” Schmaltz said. “Mites weaken the bees and the bees get viruses.”

Schmaltz said her farm of 150 hives typically loses between 50 to 75 percent of the honeybee crop during the winter because of the varroa mites.

Although Schmaltz said she replaces the lost honeybees, it comes with a cost to her farm.

“(With the chemical) we wouldn’t have to replace bees,” Schmaltz said. “When you replace the bees and you would do that in the spring, you only have a small (amount of bees) in April. It affects the honey crop.”

Huang said that protecting the honeybees has the potential to help the economy.

“Mites are basically a parasite for honeybees and kills economies in year or two if it’s not treated,” Huang said.
Originally Published: 12/09/09 9:46pm

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