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Mite fight

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Science  26 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6451, pp. 310-313
DOI: 10.1126/science.365.6451.310

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Summary

The major contributor to the demise of honey bee colonies worldwide is a parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, that feeds on bees and infects them with lethal viruses. Many beekeepers treat their hives with pesticides, but the mites continue to evolve resistance. Breeding mite-resistant bees has become an increasingly appealing alternative. Some bees can keep the mite in check through behaviors such as fastidious grooming and removing mite-infested larva. Identifying bees able to mount these responses is tedious. New molecular tools promise to accelerate those efforts. A new protein-based test, for example, would allow beekeepers to simply send a laboratory a few dozen antennae, plucked from their bees, to learn whether the insects have mite-detecting powers. Other scientists are sequencing the genomes of huge numbers of bees, hoping to create a relatively cheap and easy way to identify bees that carry genes for the protective behaviors. Despite technical and economic challenges, success in breeding tougher honey bees would help secure the future of this multibillion-dollar industry, which supplies honey and enables the large-scale pollination of high-value crops, such as almonds.

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