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New hope for Yorkshire bee keepers

[Wednesday 29 December 2010]

British scientists are working on a novel way to halt a deadly plague which is threatening bee populations throughout the UK – by making them self destruct.

The threat to bees, which propagate millions of farm crops like beans and fruit trees, is a particularly worry in North Yorkshire, where honey from heather in the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors is a prized product.

But bees have been under attack for some years now from a deadly mite called varroa, which invades hives and literally sucks the bees’ blood. Now, that danger has doubled with a new disease known as sudden colony collapse which is rampant in the USA and could arrive here in force any time.

In a remarkable breakthrough, the environment and food department Defra has revealed that scientists at the National Bee Unit at Aberdeen University have come up with a plan for introducing genetic changes which will cause the mites to “self destruct.”

Says Dr. Alan Bowman from the University of Aberdeen: “Introducing harmless genetic material encourages the mites’ own immune response to prevent their genes from expressing natural functions.

“This could make them self destruct. The beauty of this approach is that it is really specific and targets the mites without harming the bees or, indeed, any other animal.”

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