The Guardian reported yesterday on some promising sounding new research into a way to make the varroa mite self-destruct.
The treatment involves introducing harmless genetic material which encourages the mites’ own immune response to prevent their genes from expressing natural functions, causing them to self-destruct. (I in no way understand how this works, but this is what the article says!) Tests by other scientists have shown the treatment can be added to hives in bee feed. The bees move it into food for their young, where the varroa hides.
The original research paper is here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1756-3305-3-73.pdf
If we can get nurse bees to feed their brood a treatment that kills varroa, this would be ingenious indeed. It’s one thing carrying out tests under lab conditions and another getting it to work in real life though. Bees are stubborn creatures and I’ve found they’ll often ignore any food I give in favour of what they can collect outside, which is presumably tastier. Perhaps they’ll develop additional ways for beekeepers to give the treatment, such as by syringing over the brood.
I agreed with the comment left on the Guardian story by BeesinArt on the problems caused by monoculture:
“Certain crops though, such as borage, can gain up to an extra 1/4 yield per acre or so, if there there is one hive of bees placed alongside the field per acre. It’s lovely to see 100 beehives alongside a 100 acre field of borage. Imagine the clouds of honeybee workers over the borage field. But, although one can see many bumblebees taking advantage of the borage bonanza, it only lasts a few weeks at most. What then is there for the bumblebees when this mono crop is cut and harvested? Devastating then to see the same bumblebees desperately seeking nectar from horizontal borage plants cut the day before!”
This is the main reason I think organic farming is a good idea, because organic farms tend to plant a wider variety of crops and plant borders with wild flowers. Jordan’s (the oats & muesli people) are one of the companies doing great work in helping bees by supporting farmers to plant more nature friendly plants. Unfortunately the trend in farming certain fruit & veg recently seems to be towards developing enormous pest-free greenhouses which wild bees can’t even get into.