No Offense, American Bees, But Your Sperm Isn’t Cutting It

July 18, 2017

From: NPR/The Salt | Food for Thought

Ryan Bell
With an American honeybee queen for a mother and a European honeybee drone for a father, this worker bee has a level of genetic diversity unseen in the U.S. for decades. Researchers at Washington State University hope a deeper gene pool will give a new generation of honeybees much-needed genetic traits, like resistance to varroa mites. The parasite kills a third of American honeybees each year.
Megan Asche/Courtesy of Washington State University

[NPR] Editor’s note: This story is for mature bees only.

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Varroa mites are an invasive parasite from Asia that sucks hemolymph (bee blood) from adult and larval honeybees, weakening their immune systems and transmitting deadly pathogens, like bent wing virus. If left untreated, a varroa infestation can kill a colony in one year. First detected on U.S. soil in 1987, varroa has spread quickly, infesting upwards of 50 percent of American hives. Last year, 33 percent of U.S. honeybee hives died. That’s troubling for the plight of honeybees and U.S. agriculture, which relies on pollinators to produce one-third of the food we eat.

The buzz on American bees: too much inbreeding

According to the WSU research team, the root cause of the U.S. honeybees’ vulnerability to varroa is a dwindling gene pool that has left them short on genetic traits that help honeybees resist varroa elsewhere in the world.

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