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Honeybees Have Learned to Defend Against Common Predator

Aug 20, 2015 11:33 AM EDT
Honeybees defend themselves against predatory mites.
Researchers from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and Cornell University studied honeybees' genetics to find natural selection is helping them defend against a predatory mite known as Varroa destructor.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Honeybees aren't giving up the fight that easily. These valuable pollinators have developed a genetic resistance to the predatory mite known as Varroa destructor, which has caused them devastating colony loss over the past decade. 

According to a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers found a population of wild bees in Ithaca, New York, that appear to be thriving despite the area's mid-1990s mite invasion.

"They took a hit, but they recovered," Alexander Mikheyev, professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Japan and lead paper author, said in a statement. "The population appears to have developed genetic resistance."

Mikheyev, along with researchers from OIST and Cornell University, developed a new DNA analysis tool that works well with degraded DNA stored in museum samples, which they used in their research. By comparing the DNA of specimens collected in 1977 with bees collected from the same forest in 2010, the scientists were able to study the population genetics of the wild colony.

"By using museum specimens, we see how evolution happens as compared to how we think it happens," Mikheyev said in the statement.

According to a release, evolution is able to occur from generation to generation when external factors cause only those traits that will enhance a species' survival and reproduction to be selected and passed down. By comparing bees from the same colony, just a few decades a part, researchers were able to observe this natural selection.

Mikheyev also noted in a statement that their findings identify candidate genes that could be used for breeding more resistant bees.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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