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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Track Down Genes that Help Bees Defend Against Mites

November 14, 2012

Bees that exhibit unique behavior that would lead to the control of varroa mite parasitism were discovered by Purdue University Scientist Greg Hunt and postdoctoral student Jennifer Tsuruda. Varroa mites parasitize honeybees and infect them with viruses causing death and could possibly kill an entire bee colony.

Identified bees were observed to exhibit a trait called varroa sensitivity hygiene which can smell varroa mites that have gone into brood cells where honeybee grubs are pupating. The bees uncap the cells and sometimes remove the infested pupa, disrupting the mites' reproduction process. Other bees exhibit a grooming behavior where they swipe at their backs that remove or possibly kill the mite.

After a thorough genetic marker study, the researchers found one region coding for the gene Neurexin 1 on a chromosome that contains 27 genes, to be the candidate gene that governs this behavior. Unrelated mouse testing has shown that Neurexin 1 can be involved in excessive grooming.

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