Research Brief

Alvaro De la Mora Peña is a PhD Candidate here at the Honey Bee Research Centre. Alongside others, his research on honey bees at the University of Guelph is creating a real buzz of excitement!

“We know that honey bees (Apis mellifera) contribute to the production of more than 30% of the food consumed by western societies,” Alvaro writes. “However, honey bee colonies are detrimentally affected by a variety of stressors such as the external parasitic mite Varroa destructorV. destructor is recognized as the main biotic threat to honey bee health worldwide. In Canada, V. destructor is responsible of most of the overwinter colony losses. V. destructor also transmits and facilitates the replication of viruses such as the Deformed wing virus (DWV) and decrease the longevity of parasitized bees by more than 50%. Most beekeepers use synthetic miticides to control mite infestations, but the mites can become resistant against their active compounds, compromising their effectiveness.

“Accordingly, it is essential to establish different control strategies. One alternative is to breed Varroa-resistant strains of honey bees for reducing the impact of V. destructor parasitism on bee colonies . Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between lower V. destructor and lower DWV levels in honey bee colonies. The principal component of Alvaro´s research project is to run a breeding program to select bees for lower and higher rates of V. destructor population growth (LVG and HVG, respectively), and monitoring infection rates of DWV.

“This program is currently being performed in Ontario, with the collaboration of the Ontario Queen Breeders Association, the Ontario Beekeepers Association, and the University of Guelph’s Honey Bee Research Centre. The preliminary results of this work show a six-fold difference in mite population growth between the LVG and HVG colonies. Additionally, DWV levels and winter colony mortality are significantly lower in LVG colonies than in HVG colonies. We will select additional generations of LVG and HVG colonies to determine if resistance can be related to transcriptome, behavioural immunity, and other parameters that could explain the divergence between the selected genotypes. We will also conduct molecular analyses of the genotypes.

“The overall results of this project will help to understand the impact of V. destructor on selected resistant bees, and to identify markers that can be used in bee breeding as well as to understand the mode of action of the resistance. The methodology used in this breeding program will be adapted to be practical and replicable for queen breeders. We are producing a video on the methods for the industry.”