JANUARY 16, 2018


January 16, 2018

The Varroa miteis a scourge of honeybees across the globe. Chemical compounds to combat these parasites however, are outdated and are growing increasingly ineffective. No new active compounds have been registered in the last 25 years. This dearth of options prompted scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to experiment with a technique called RNA interference. In their study, they fed bees double-stranded RNA via a sugar solution to knockout vital genes in Varroa mites. The mites ingested the lethal RNA via bees’ hemolymph and subsequently died.

Inspired by those results, German researchers primarily based out of the University of Hoffenheim, sought to replicate this by repeating the experiment with slightly tweaked methods. Indeed, mites infesting bees that were fed sugar water with the designed RNA rapidly died, however so did mites in a control group given another RNA. These results prompted the researchers to suspect that the lithium chloride used to produce the RNA – and thus present in the sugar water – was what was killing the parasites. Subsequent examinations confirmed this hypothesis.

They found that feeding honeybees minuscule amounts of lithium chloride (no more than 25millimoles) over 24 to 72 hours wiped out 90 to 100 percent ofVarroamites without significantly increasing bee mortality.

This simple solution could deal a blow to honeybees’greatest threat- the Varroamite, without harming bees. Lithium chloride could be put to use very quickly, as it is easily applied via feeding, will not accumulate in beeswax, has a low toxicity for mammals, and is reasonably priced. However, wider studies on free-flying colonies testing long-term side effects are required first, as well as analyses of possible residues in honey.

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Tackling bees’ greatest threat: Lithium chloride could kill Varroa destructor mites without harming bees