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Thu Sep 17, 2015, 01:47 PM

Genetic Study Shows How Honey Bees Evolved In Response To Deadly Parasite

Genetic Study Shows How Honey Bees Evolved In Response To Deadly Parasite
A new genetic study of wild honey bees living in forests near Ithaca, New York, sheds light on how they rapidly evolved resistance in response to the deadly parasitic mite Varroa destructor. The mite, originally from Asia, has been implicated in causing the deaths of millions of bee colonies across North America and Europe, and yet the population in Ithaca is still going strong, despite being infected with the parasite in the mid-1990s.

“They took a hit, but they recovered,” explains Alexander Mikheyev, a professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Japan and lead author of the paper published in Nature Communications. “The population appears to have developed genetic resistance.”

The researchers were able to track genetic changes that occurred in the population because samples of bees from the same forest were collected in 1977. This allowed the team to compare the DNA of the 1977 bees to some collected in 2010, covering the period during which the population became infected with the Varroa mites. An opportunity to do such an analysis – especially with bees – is incredibly rare, because few people collect the insects and fewer still preserve them in ways in which DNA can then be extracted. In fact, the scientists had to develop a new DNA analysis tool that can work using degraded DNA from museum specimens.

Marvelous thing, evolution. No help, of course, to people, but species given sufficient time can overcome the real difficulties in long term survival.

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