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New diagnostic laboratory for honey bee viruses

Published: Fri 6 Dec 2002 09:18 AM
New diagnostic laboratory for honey bee viruses
HortResearch wants to discover how many of the 14 known viruses of European honey bees are present in New Zealand and which of these are likely to become economically important now that the varroa mite is here. The research project has been initiated by scientist Jacqui Todd who is developing a honey bee virus diagnostic laboratory at the Mt Albert Research Centre in Auckland.
Ms Todd said, "Studies in other countries have shown that varroa mites cause dramatic changes in the type and severity of virus infections causing the death of bees and brood. The problem is that the female mites transfer virus between adult bees and to developing honey bee pupae when they feed. The introduction of virus directly into the circulatory system of bees overcomes the natural controls that normally limit virus spread. We need to know which of the viruses are the potential killers of colonies so that we can most effectively target and time our mite controls."
HortResearch is collaborating with scientists in the UK on this project. Recent research there suggests that even colonies severely infested with mites can survive, provided certain key viruses are absent. Some of the viruses of concern in the UK have not been found in New Zealand and identifying the damaging infections associated with varroa here will be a primary objective. The investigations currently underway at HortResearch will augment a previous study by a former HortResearch scientist, Dr Denis Anderson, who found nine of the known bee viruses in New Zealand in 1988.
An initial analysis of samples of dead bees taken from 32 colonies in New Zealand last summer showed that cloudy wing virus was the most common infection, although a further five different viruses were detected. Analysis of live bee and mite samples from these colonies is continuing and will provide further insight into the establishment and transmission of these infections.
More detailed studies will be undertaken this year on a group of 12 small bee colonies at Mt Albert. The regular collection of samples of dead bees and brood will provide additional information on the seasonal incidence and severity of infections. The samples are put through a grinder and the liquid extract is then centrifuged at high speed to concentrate any virus present. The extract is then tested against specific antisera by immuno-diffusion to identify the viruses present. Ultimately, more sensitive tests will be developed to detect virus in live bees and mites to provide essential information on virus epidemiology.
The virus diagnosis project is just part of the wider research carried out by HortResearch to safeguard the future of New Zealand's beekeeping industry and protect the vital role that honey bees play in the pollination of crops and wild plants.

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