Scientist strives to save honey bees

September 16, 2013

From: The Sydney Morning Herald

Scott Hannaford

The Australian scientist who helped discover what was killing the world’s  honey bees believes he may be on the cusp of working out how to stop it – if he  can just convince anyone to listen.

Denis Anderson was awarded the 2007 CSIRO medal for his work spreading  awareness of the varroa destructor mite, a parasite that sucks the blood of  European honey bees and has caused widespread carnage to  populations across the  world.

The mite has spread to all major honey harvesting countries except Australia  and is rated as one of the nation’s greatest biosecurity threats.

But Dr Anderson, who identified and named the mite, has left the CSIRO out of  frustration and says he has been forced to rely on funds from selling women’s  sandals to continue the research, because the CSIRO is unwilling to put money  into solving the problem.


“The product we are after is a bee resistant to the mite, whether we  manufacture that bee or select it naturally,” Dr Anderson said.

Research has found the mite relies on a chemical signal from the bee to  trigger its breeding cycle.

By manipulating that signal without harming the bee, he believes it is  possible to trick the mite into not laying eggs and therefore not reproducing.  “But to get to that end product you need all this research, and CSIRO is not  interested in funding that,” he said.

Dr Anderson said Australia was in a race to find a solution as the mite’s  arrival was inevitable. There have already been several close calls, including  in 2012 when thousands of Asian honey bees carrying the mite were discovered on  a foreign ship berthed in Sydney.

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation estimates it would  cost Australian industry $72.3million a year over 30 years if the mite becomes  established.

CSIRO ecosystem sciences chief Dan Walker said there was a range of work  continuing at CSIRO on bees and the varroa mite, but it was not possible to fund  all forms of research.

“CSIRO has invested significantly in varroa mite research over the past 23  years, inclusive of the research undertaken by Dr Anderson on ‘switching off’  the ability of the varroa mite to breed,” he said.

“We have advanced the knowledge significantly over this period, but as with  many other areas of research undertaken by CSIRO we rely on industry  co-investment to take research through to many applied solutions. In this case  industry funding has not been forthcoming.”

Dr Anderson said it would take about five years and $10 million to find the  chemical switch and a way of changing it to stop the mite breeding, but it was  very achievable and would be a breakthrough for agriculture around the  world.

Having given up on CSIRO and the pollination to put money into the required  research, Dr Anderson has started appealing to the corporate sector, and has had  some initial support, including from a West Australian fashion business, which is providing a portion of sales from women’s sandals  to fund bee research.

Dr Anderson is also working to establish a foundation to fund research by  universities and PhD students in the area that he hopes will lead to a bee  resistant to the mite.

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