Project Scope Varroa Resistant Traits (VaRT)
Project Target Identification of Varroa Resistant traits that can be used for the selection and breeding of Varroa resistant honey bees. Grooming behavior will be the first target in this project.
Current Status , Assumptions and Proposed solution- Problem definition

– Current solutions

– Expected future solutions, trends.

– Proposed solution

One of the best characterized Varroa resistant traits is VSH which is used as the basis for the breeding in this program. The VSH trait will have a strong contribution towards a Varroa resistant honey bee. However, also several other adaptations to Varroa have been described and research on other resistance traits has been performed. This work is in an earlier phase compared to work on the VSH trait. Apis cerana, the Asian honey bee, uses hygienic behavior and also grooming behavior to reduce the Varroa infestation. Bundling VHS behavior (targeting the brood) and grooming (targeting the phase that the Varroa is not in the brood but on adult bees), might be a good combination of behaviors to get the Varroa infestation to very low levels.
Science & Technology- Target Technology: available, required

– Approach, Methodology, Tools

Grooming behavior has been described and shown to have potential for resistance at the laboratory level. One group in the USA (Purdue University) is selecting for the percentage of mites that appear to be bitten when recovered from the bottom board of a hive. This approach may prove useful. However, no models have been developed which can be readily used for the selection and breeding of colonies.The Purdue group also is working on a genetic marker test. Some early results suggest the involvement of a neurexin gene – a gene which also plays a role in Grooming behavior in mice. Further research is needed to understand the effect of different intensities of grooming, e.g., is it enough for the bee to “wipe-off” the mites or is it also critical that the mites are damaged or killed?

The USDA Baton Rouge group has investigated the mite fall on bottom boards and identified specific parameters associated with age and level of damage to mites that might be of value for a future breeding-selection model.

A first topic of this project would be the support the development of a reliable method to measure the grooming behavior so that selection and breeding would be possible. A reliable method would also support the development of molecular markers.

A second topic to look into is a possible link between grooming and the small cell bees (BMaT project). Assuming that a Varroa Mite has a quite fixed size (around 1 mm wide), it can be speculated that smaller bees will be earlier triggered to groom a mite which is trying to hide between the segments of the (smaller) abdomen. Maybe the mites will have a little bit more difficulty to hide between the (smaller) segments of a smaller bee. For smaller bees, the Varroa will be “bigger” in general and might be for that reason earlier noticed as ‘strange’ , ‘foreign’ and ‘to be removed’.

Project Evaluation- Potential value

– Probability of success

The importance of grooming for Varroa resistance has not been well quantified. But from a logical point of view its value appears to be potentially large as efficient removal (or even killing) of the Varroa from the bee, would interfere with the further proliferation of the Varroa in a colony. It has not been proven whether grooming behavior is a heritable trait. The amount of research done on this subject is still modest. So probability of success to gain more insight is high, probability of success to find a clear-cut extra selection trait is estimated to be moderate.
Project Planning & Resources- Planning

– Resources & Partners

Given the more fundamental aspects of this research it is considered a good student or academic project. It will likely take a few consecutive students and cooperation between institutes to establish a screening methodology. Once a method becomes available, other resources could be devoted to a structured selection program. So the Arista Bee Research Foundation will try to facilitate this project (financially and with different breeds and sizes of bees), with the majority of the activities performed in the partner institutes or universities. Direct involvement of the Foundation is planned for 2015 at the earliest (“funding level 2”).