Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Home Covid-19 B.C. bee scientists hopeful in fight against mites

B.C. bee scientists hopeful in fight against mites

B.C. chemistry professor Erika Plettner gestures towards beehives surrounded by tall, dry grasses as she explains the multiple pressures facing honeybees worldwide.

Pesticides, pathogens and the effects of climate change are putting bees and their role as pollinators of the world’s food crops in peril, she says.

So, Plettner and her team of researchers are working towards mitigating one tiny yet deadly risk factor — the varroa mite.

Read more:

Researcher discovers insecticides impair ability of honeybees to navigate

The team at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is testing a chemical compound that appears to kill the mites without harming the bees, in the hope it could one day be widely available as a treatment for infested hives.

Story continues below advertisement

Varroa mites kill bees by puncturing their cuticle, or exoskeleton, creating a wound that doesn’t close, Plettner said. That leaves an opening for disease and weakens bees’ immune systems, she said in an interview at the researchers’ experimental apiary outside Surrey, B.C.

“That’s what then ultimately makes (the bees) collapse during wintering,” she said.

Plettner and her team are testing the safety and efficacy of the compound identified in her lab some years ago, which appears to paralyze and then kill the mites. As Plettner explains, the researchers don’t yet understand exactly how the compound works.

“We don’t know the actual protein in the mite to which the compound binds, or a collection of proteins. We know that paralysis usually involves the nervous system of the mite,” she said.

Read more:

Topsy Farms launches ‘Adopt-a-Bee’ fundraiser

Her team recently obtained funding from Genome British Columbia, a non-profit organization, to work with researchers at the University of British Columbia to investigate how the compound affects the mites, she added.

The researchers place a sheet of sticky paper beneath the hives to collect the dead mites for analysis in their lab, she said.

So far, the chemical compound looks promising as a potential treatment alongside five or six others currently available, Plettner said.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s important to rotate through different treatments from year to year, she said, because the mites are starting to show resistance to what she called the “gold standard” of existing treatments.

The varroa mite originally attacked honeybees in Asia before spreading to Afro-European honeybee populations about 100 years ago, she said.

“In terms of evolutionary time, this is relatively short. And that’s why our bees are so affected by this, because … in an evolutionary sense, they haven’t had a chance to develop, through selection, natural defences.”

Read more:

Mite threatens to wipe out Manitoba’s honeybees, entomologist says

Efforts are underway to find bees that are more naturally resistant to the mites, said Plettner, noting one of her own hives at her home has had no mites this summer, while the neighbouring hive was “boiling over” with the pests.

“Every once in a while, you get a hive that is quite resistant to the mite, and this is a subject of very intensive research and bee breeding efforts.”

It will take some years to commercialize the compound, making it available as a treatment, Plettner said. The researchers still need to understand how it works and demonstrate that it’s safe for bees, beekeepers and the surrounding environment, she said.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s especially important to mitigate varroa mite infestations given the range of environmental pressures bees are facing, Plettner said.

Click to play video: 'Bees and mites: U of M entomologist responds to decimation of honeybee colonies'

Bees and mites: U of M entomologist responds to decimation of honeybee colonies

Bees and mites: U of M entomologist responds to decimation of honeybee colonies – Jul 26, 2022

Climate change is affecting the ecology of honeybee habitat, changing the availability of the flowers and plants they need to survive, she said.

Moreover, bees are part of a system of intensive agricultural practices that employ pesticides and herbicides across Canada and worldwide, she said.

“Even if near the apiary is not sprayed, bees will fly quite far, up to two kilometres, to seek flowering plants and food,” she said. “So they can get accidentally contaminated with substances that are harmful.”

At the same time, many plants that are considered weeds and targeted with herbicide by agricultural operators are important for bees, Plettner said.

Story continues below advertisement

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan beekeepers reporting bee population slump'

Saskatchewan beekeepers reporting bee population slump

Saskatchewan beekeepers reporting bee population slump – May 22, 2022

— This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

Most Popular

Potholes to puddles: Calgary crews in full swing amid spring melt

Heralding the official arrival of spring, City of Calgary crews are fielding hundreds of calls for pooling water and potholes as the spring melt...

What is a raccoon dog and why is it being linked to COVID-19’s origin?

Last week, a team of international researchers shared with the world a discovery possibly linking the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to a breed...

Group promoting careers for women in aviation lands in New Brunswick

Students from Rothesay Netherwood School were told to look to the skies as Elevate Aviation, a group that encourages women to get into the...

‘Regional Mayors Council’ being created for eastern Ontario

Descrease article font size Increase article font size The mayors of Kingston, Napanee, Loyalist Township, South Frontenac, Gananoque, and the Township of Leeds and the Thousand...