The Department of Entomology has been conducting a comprehensive study on the accidental introduction of the varroa mite, a pathogenic parasite that affects bees and yellowjackets, on the island of Hawai’i. In an interview with the Highlander, Professor Erin Rankin, the lead researcher, stated that the project has provided fascinating discoveries about the impact of genetic mutations of viruses on the bee community.
The team discovered that the pathogen was causing a lack of diversity among the Deformed Wing Virus, a deadly virus that has negatively impacted the bee population globally and within the United States. Additionally, the varroa mite has also spread quickly among the yellowjacket community, which Rankin predicts is mainly due to the fact that bees are their main source of prey.
Varroa mites are an especially harmful pest, as they have spread disease not only bees and wasps but many different types of insects as well; even flowers have been infected by the mite’s pathogens. Researchers have recommended implementing control and isolation measures to prevent the continued spread of this highly contagious mite. These recommendations were presented to government environmental regulatory agencies.
According to Dr. Rankin, it is unlikely that these bee viruses will infect humans or mammals. “What is really exciting about our findings is that the presence of a bee-specialist mite had impacts on the pathogen diversity of other insects – even though the mite never directly infected the wasp,” she said. “This suggests that parasites of one species can have spillover effects on the pathospheres, or an individual’s entire complement of pathogens, of other species with whom they interact.”
These new discoveries provide the scientific community with a stronger understanding of how pathogens impact one another, which Rankin finds will be helpful towards efforts of disease prevention or treatment.