Elucidating the honey bee immune response and pathogen transmission at varroa mite feeding sites

Supervisors: Alan S Bowman, Tom Freeman

Project Description:

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are critically important to global food production by virtue of their pollination services.  Worryingly, there is a well-recognised honey bee health crisis threatening bee populations and, thereby, global food security.  Of particular note has been the spread of the external parasitic mite Varroa destructor from the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) to a near global presence on the Western honey bee (A. mellifera) over the past 50 years.  More recently, it has been recognized that the high lethality of Varroa infestation in a honey bee colony is not due to Varroa in isolation but due to its interaction with the deformed wing virus (DWV).

The maternal Varroa creates a bite site on the immature bee that does not heal, thus, allowing her offspring to feed from the communal feeding site for the rest of their development.  During this biting and feeding the Varroa spit salivary bioactive compounds to the bite site preventing it from healing over, modulating the honey bee’s immune system and also transmitting deformed wing virus.  The aim of the project is to elucidate the interaction of the Varroa-DWV-honey bee within the vicinity of the bite site and disseminating from there.

The project offers the student much scope for developing its direction as it progresses.  A full programme of generic skill training is available.  The project will provide training in insect immunology, acarology, modern molecular biology techniques (RNAseq, bioinformatics, gene knockdown, qPCR, in situ hybridization), virology, histology and basic bee husbandry.

  1. Kanbar G. and Engels W. (2003). Ultrastructure and bacterial infection of wounds in honey bee (Apis mellifera) pupae punctured by Varroa mites. Parasitology Research 90, 349-354.
  2. Rosenkranz P., Aumeier P. & Ziegelmann B. (2010). Biology and control of Varroa destructor. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 103, S96-S119.
  3. Richards, E.H., Jones, B. & Bowman, A.S.  (2011). Salivary secretions from the honeybee mite, Varroa destructor: effects on insect haemocytes and preliminary biochemical characterization. Parasitology 138: 602-608.