About a third of our diet depends on the pollination of crops by honeybees, including many fruits, vegetables, seeds, beans and spices. Over the past 30 odd years, the honeybee population has been declining. So far, food production has not been gravely affected, but scientists, farmers and beekeepers have cause to be worried. The disappearance of honeybees, termed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, is an acute agricultural threat in North America and Western Europe.

honeybee

Photo by Erik Hooymans (Image source: wikipedia commons)

The latest mass die off of honeybees in the United States was unusual in that it was more rapid and more mysterious: bees disappeared suddenly and with little evidence of disease or parasites to warrant such a drop in numbers. Fortunately, the honeybee’s genome was recently decoded, which should help provide more clues regarding the mystery.

According to a Discovery News report from November 12th, U.S. Government scientists suspect that the varroa mite is responsible for CCR. The varroa is a honeybee parasite that has grown resistant to pesticides, carries viruses and is generally considered to be the top honeybee pest in the world. But a special breed of bees is fighting back.

‘Some bees have a low-frequency genetic trait termed varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) that enables them to better locate and remove varroa mites from hives. These bees team up to open the covered brood cells and remove the mite-damaged pupae and any accompanying varroa mites from the hive.’

 

–news.discovery.com

 

U.S. Government scientists are breeding these varroa-fighting bees in an effort to curb CCD. But all scientists are not equally optimistic about this possible solution to Colony Collapse Disorder and how resistant the specially bred honeybees will be in the long run remains to be seen.

Find out more background about this story by watching this video from Discovery News: Honey Bee Killer Hunted.

Additional resources:
U.S. Government National Bee Unit