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Lab Spotlight: ARS - Honey Bees With Varroa-Sensitive Hygiene

ARS Honey Bees

The resistance of Varroa mites to currently available chemical miticides is developing rapidly. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La., have developed honey bees with high expression of the Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) trait. Honey bees are naturally hygienic, and they often remove diseased brood from their nests.

Parasitic Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are implicated as the single most important challenge faced by the U.S. beekeeping industry and arguably the biggest global threat to commercial beekeeping. ARS defined the VSH behavioral trait of honey bees that provides a genetic tool to manage this problem. The ARS breeds honey bees to increase the expression of VSH to high levels in a selected population; this population has good resistance to Varroa. Research has shown that when queens with high levels of VSH are openly mated to unselected drones, the resultant colonies retain acceptable levels of mite resistance. Beekeepers, therefore, can get mite-resistant colonies from commercially produced queens.

VSH is a specific form of nest cleaning behavior focused on removing Varroa-infested brood. Improving bee health through the transfer of VSH technology has helped limit the loss of effective bee pollination by sustaining the availability and vigor of bee colonies.

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