Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Genetic Test Stings Killer Bee Invaders

A new genetic test will enable the importation of honey bees from places where killer bees are present.

Australia needs to import bees that are resistant to the Varroa mite, but are unable to do so due to the risk of introducing the “killer” bee subspecies.

The mite is present in all bee-keeping countries except Australia. It devastates colonies by sucking bees’ blood and spreading blood-borne diseases.

No Australian honeybees have resistance to the mite, so if it managed to evade Australian quarantine measures it could destroy local bee stocks within a couple of years.

“The answer is to import Varroa-resistant bee semen and queen bees so we can breed resistance into our bee stocks as a form of inoculation that could protect our bees,” said Dr Nadine Chapman of the University of Sydney.

“Until now this option has been restricted because Australian beekeepers are only able to import bees from the small number of countries that are free of killer bees, which originated in Africa.

“Killer bees are highly aggressive and are considered unacceptable for beekeeping. It is assumed that they would replace our current honeybee populations in the key beekeeping regions.”

The new test, announced in Molecular Ecology Resources, identifies how much of three main ancestral bee lineages are present. To lower the risk of killer bees coming to Australia, those with high African ancestry would be denied entry.

“Using this test Australia will be able to import honeybees, including Varroa-resistant bees, from countries where killer bees are present, including the United States,” Chapman said.

Co-author A/Prof Amro Zayed of York University added: “Our genetic test is highly accurate, which is considerably better than the old tests that have a high tendency to misclassify hybrid bees”.

Chapman is now working on making the genetic test more affordable, and plans to work with the US Department of Agriculture to develop a protocol for the importation of Varroa-resistant bees.