Global Honey Bee Viral Landscape Altered by a Parasitic Mite

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Science  08 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6086, pp. 1304-1306
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220941

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Honey Bees Beware of the Mite

The emergence of a virulent form of a viral disease that has long been associated with the world-wide death of honey bees has occurred in the Hawaiian archipelago. Martin et al. (p. 1304) exploited this unique situation to study the mechanisms behind the emergence. Honey bee populations have long been established on the isolated Hawaiian Islands but only recently have some islands become infested with the Varroa mite. This mite has selected for a single viral pathogen-deformed wing virus among the honey bee population, with the appearance of a single dominant virus strain, which has now spread worldwide. Thus, a normally benign viral pathogen has become one of the most widely distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet.


Emerging diseases are among the greatest threats to honey bees. Unfortunately, where and when an emerging disease will appear are almost impossible to predict. The arrival of the parasitic Varroa mite into the Hawaiian honey bee population allowed us to investigate changes in the prevalence, load, and strain diversity of honey bee viruses. The mite increased the prevalence of a single viral species, deformed wing virus (DWV), from ~10 to 100% within honey bee populations, which was accompanied by a millionfold increase in viral titer and a massive reduction in DWV diversity, leading to the predominance of a single DWV strain. Therefore, the global spread of Varroa has selected DWV variants that have emerged to allow it to become one of the most widely distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet.

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