Safe­guard­ing bee colonies from fu­ture dis­ease wor­ries

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - CAS­SAN­DRA GLOVER Cas­san­dra.glover@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

DOC­TOR Emily Rem­nant has com­bined her in­ter­est in viruses with her fas­ci­na­tion with bees to be­gin a study into breed­ing virus-re­sis­tant bees.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture Award in ad­di­tion to the AgriFu­tures Aus­tralia spon­sored 2017 Sci­ence and In­no­va­tion Award for Young Peo­ple in Agri­cul­ture Award, Dr Rem­nant has spent the past 12 months in­ves­ti­gat­ing im­mu­ni­sa­tion of honey bees against viruses spread by the var­roa mite.

“The aim of my re­search was to im­prove honey bee health by de­vel­op­ing and en­abling a novel method to in­crease honey bee re­sis­tance to viruses us­ing a nat­u­ral bac­te­rial sym­biont, wol­bachia,” Dr Rem­nant said.

“Dur­ing my PhD I worked in the same in­sti­tute as a group who was us­ing wol­bachia in mos­qui­toes to stop the spread of dengue fever.

“So I thought, ‘well, it’s not known what the bac­te­ria does in bees so I think we should test it’.”

Dr Rem­nant said the re­search was still in its early stages.

“The bac­te­ria lives in­side cells, so you can’t just feed it to bees and see what it does. You have to in­ject it into bees when the cells are still form­ing, so we tried in­ject­ing eggs. All the tri­als I did in­ject­ing into the eggs were un­suc­cess­ful.

“I then tried in­ject­ing queen bees, into their ovaries, which looked more promis­ing.

“The sur­vival rate was higher and most of the queens were pos­i­tive with wol­bachia af­ter the in­jec­tion.

“Eight per cent con­tained wol­bachia in the ovaries. It’s a low per­cent­age but it’s still bet­ter than zero.”

Dr Rem­nant said she used a mi­cro in­jec­tion to in­ject the bees, which in­volved a cap­il­lary nee­dle con­nected to air pres­sure.

“We take the wol­bachia out of a donor in­sect, in this case a fly egg, and then push it out of the cap­il­lary into the bee,” she said.

Dr Rem­nant said if her re­search was successful it would pro­vide a new mech­a­nism to pre­vent vi­ral in­fec­tion in bees.

“In­fec­tion from the var­roa mite causes quite a lot of prob­lems for bee­keep­ers around the world. Bee­keep­ers in the US re­port about 30 per cent of colony losses in re­cent years,” she said.

“They nor­mally treat for var­roa with chem­i­cals and I think the mites now are get­ting re­sis­tant to the chem­i­cals.

“So I think if we fo­cus on an­other branch, which is the viruses, it gives peo­ple an­other op­tion for prevent­ing colony loss.

“It’s not an is­sue in Aus­tralia yet, but if we got the var­roa mites, it would be good to have a virus-re­sis­tant type of bees.”

Dr Rem­nant said she hoped to have more in­for­ma­tion about the suc­cess of the wol­bachia in­fec­tions by the end of the year.

“Next spring I’ll re­peat those ex­per­i­ments by in­ject­ing into queens,” she said.

“We’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways to get queens to lay eggs in the lab, which is not as easy as it seems.

“Then we’ll aim to test those off­spring for virus re­sis­tance.”

If successful, it would still be a few years be­fore field tri­als could take place.

“This is all lab-based re­search. We would need a lot more re­search be­fore we’re able to use it in the field,” Dr Rem­nant said.

“There could be neg­a­tive ef­fects so I’d like to test for all that be­fore we do field tri­als. It will be a few years away yet, but bit by bit we’ll get there.”

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

SU­PER BEES: Dr Emily Rem­nant con­ducts her study into virus-re­sis­tant bees.

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