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Genetic Breakthrough In Fight Against Honeybee Killer

A breakthrough in the battle against a deadly mite responsible for decimating the honeybee population has been welcomed by conservation groups.

The varroa mite is the biggest killer of honeybees and has become resistant to medication developed to destroy it. But now scientists have identified a genetic technique that could stop the mite in its tracks.

Researchers from the government's National Bee Unit and Aberdeen University have worked out how to "silence" natural functions in the mites' genes.

Alan Bowman, from the University of Aberdeen, said: "Introducing harmless genetic material encourages the mites' own immune response to prevent their genes from expressing natural functions. This could make them self-destruct.

"This approach targets the mites without harming the bees or, indeed, any other animal."

Giles Budge, from National Bee Unit, part of the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), agreed. "This cutting-edge treatment poses no threat to the bees.

"With appropriate support from industry and a rigorous approval process, chemical-free medicines could be available in five to 10 years."

The mite, which looks like a tiny brown crab, hitches a ride on the bee, draining its blood and weakening its immune system. It takes just 1,000 mites to kill a colony of 50,000 bees.




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