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Concept: Deformed wing virus


The health of the honeybee and, indirectly, global crop production are threatened by several biotic and abiotic factors, which play a poorly defined role in the induction of widespread colony losses. Recent descriptive studies suggest that colony losses are often related to the interaction between pathogens and other stress factors, including parasites. Through an integrated analysis of the population and molecular changes associated with the collapse of honeybee colonies infested by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor, we show that this parasite can de-stabilise the within-host dynamics of Deformed wing virus (DWV), transforming a cryptic and vertically transmitted virus into a rapidly replicating killer, which attains lethal levels late in the season. The de-stabilisation of DWV infection is associated with an immunosuppression syndrome, characterized by a strong down-regulation of the transcription factor NF-κB. The centrality of NF-κB in host responses to a range of environmental challenges suggests that this transcription factor can act as a common currency underlying colony collapse that may be triggered by different causes. Our results offer an integrated account for the multifactorial origin of honeybee losses and a new framework for assessing, and possibly mitigating, the impact of environmental challenges on honeybee health.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Bacteria, Parasitism, Beekeeping, Biotic component, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus


Honeybee (Apis mellifera) health is threatened globally by the complex interaction of multiple stressors, including the parasitic mite Varroa destructor and a number of pathogenic viruses. Australia provides a unique opportunity to study this pathogenic viral landscape in the absence of V. destructor. We analysed 1,240A. mellifera colonies across Australia by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and next-generation sequencing (NGS). Five viruses were prevalent: black queen cell virus (BQCV), sacbrood virus (SBV), Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) and the Lake Sinai viruses (LSV1 and LSV2), of which the latter three were detected for the first time in Australia. We also showed several viruses were absent in our sampling, including deformed wing virus (DWV) and slow bee paralysis virus (SBPV). Our findings highlight that viruses can be highly prevalent in A. mellifera populations independently of V. destructor. Placing these results in an international context, our results support the hypothesis that the co-pathogenic interaction of V. destructor and DWV is a key driver of increased colony losses, but additional stressors such as pesticides, poor nutrition, etc. may enable more severe and frequent colony losses to occur.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Viruses, Queen bee, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus


The globally distributed ectoparasite Varroa destructor is a vector for viral pathogens of the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera), in particular the Iflavirus Deformed Wing Virus (DWV). In the absence of Varroa low levels DWV occur, generally causing asymptomatic infections. Conversely, Varroa-infested colonies show markedly elevated virus levels, increased overwintering colony losses, with impairment of pupal development and symptomatic workers. To determine whether changes in the virus population were due Varroa amplifying and introducing virulent virus strains and/or suppressing the host immune responses, we exposed Varroa-naïve larvae to oral and Varroa-transmitted DWV. We monitored virus levels and diversity in developing pupae and associated Varroa, the resulting RNAi response and transcriptome changes in the host. Exposed pupae were stratified by Varroa association (presence/absence) and virus levels (low/high) into three groups. Varroa-free pupae all exhibited low levels of a highly diverse DWV population, with those exposed per os (group NV) exhibiting changes in the population composition. Varroa-associated pupae exhibited either low levels of a diverse DWV population (group VL) or high levels of a near-clonal virulent variant of DWV (group VH). These groups and unexposed controls © could be also discriminated by principal component analysis of the transcriptome changes observed, which included several genes involved in development and the immune response. All Varroa tested contained a diverse replicating DWV population implying the virulent variant present in group VH, and predominating in RNA-seq analysis of temporally and geographically separate Varroa-infested colonies, was selected upon transmission from Varroa, a conclusion supported by direct injection of pupae in vitro with mixed virus populations. Identification of a virulent variant of DWV, the role of Varroa in its transmission and the resulting host transcriptome changes furthers our understanding of this important viral pathogen of honeybees.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Vaccination, Pathogen, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Deformed wing virus


European honey bees (Apis mellifera) are critically important to global food production by virtue of their pollination services but are severely threatened by deformed wing virus (DWV) especially in the presence of the external parasite Varroa destructor. DWV exists as many viral strains with the two major variants (DWV-A and DWV-B) varying in virulence. A single plasmid standard was constructed containing three sections for the specific determination of DWV-A (VP2 capsid region), DWV-B (IRES) and a conserved region suitable for total DWV (helicase region). The assays were confirmed as specific and discriminatory with limits of detections of 25, 25 and 50 genome equivalents for DWV-A, DWV-B and total-DWV, respectively. The methods were successfully tested on Apis mellifera and V. destructor samples with varying DWV profiles. The new method determined a more accurate total DWV titre in samples with substantial DWV-B than the method currently described in the COLOSS Beebook. The proposed assays could be utilized for the screening of large quantities of bee material for both a total DWV load overview along with more detailed investigations into DWV-A and DWV-B profiles.

Concepts: DNA, Insect, European honey bee, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Bees, Deformed wing virus


Deformed wing virus (DWV) is a lethal virus of honeybees (Apis mellifera) implicated in elevated colony mortality rates worldwide and facilitated through vector transmission by the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor. Clinical, symptomatic DWV infections are almost exclusively associated with high virus titres during pupal development, usually acquired through feeding by Varroa mites when reproducing on bee pupae. Control of the mite population, generally through acaricide treatment, is essential for breaking the DWV epidemic and minimizing colony losses. In this study, we evaluated the effectiveness of remedial mite control on clearing DWV from a colony. DWV titres in adult bees and pupae were monitored at 2 week intervals through summer and autumn in acaricide-treated and untreated colonies. The DWV titres in Apistan treated colonies was reduced 1000-fold relative to untreated colonies, which coincided with both the removal of mites and also a turnover of the bee population in the colony. This adult bee population turnover is probably more critical than previously realized for effective clearing of DWV infections. After this initial reduction, subclinical DWV titres persisted and even increased again gradually during autumn, demonstrating that alternative non-Varroa transmission routes can maintain the DWV titres at significant subclinical levels even after mite removal. The implications of these results for practical recommendations to mitigate deleterious subclinical DWV infections and improving honeybee health management are discussed.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Mite, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus, Varroa, Varroa jacobsoni


Over the past fifty years, annual honeybee (Apis mellifera) colony losses have been steadily increasing worldwide. These losses have occurred in parallel with the global spread of the honeybee parasite Varroa destructor. Indeed, Varroa mite infestations are considered to be a key explanatory factor for the widespread increase in annual honeybee colony mortality. The host-parasite relationship between honeybees and Varroa is complicated by the mite’s close association with a range of honeybee viral pathogens. The 10-year history of the expanding front of Varroa infestation in New Zealand offered a rare opportunity to assess the dynamic quantitative and qualitative changes in honeybee viral landscapes in response to the arrival, spread and level of Varroa infestation. We studied the impact of de novo infestation of bee colonies by Varroa on the prevalence and titres of seven well-characterised honeybee viruses in both bees and mites, using a large-scale molecular ecology approach. We also examined the effect of the number of years since Varroa arrival on honeybee and mite viral titres. The dynamic shifts in the viral titres of black queen cell virus and Kashmir bee virus mirrored the patterns of change in Varroa infestation rates along the Varroa expansion front. The deformed wing virus (DWV) titres in bees continued to increase with Varroa infestation history, despite dropping infestation rates, which could be linked to increasing DWV titres in the mites. This suggests that the DWV titres in mites, perhaps boosted by virus replication, may be a major factor in maintaining the DWV epidemic after initial establishment. Both positive and negative associations were identified for several pairs of viruses, in response to the arrival of Varroa. These findings provide important new insights into the role of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor in influencing the viral landscape that affects honeybee colonies.

Concepts: Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Mite, Apidae, Queen bee, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus


As key pollinators, honey bees are crucial to many natural and agricultural ecosystems. An important factor in the health of honey bees is the availability of diverse floral resources. However, in many parts of the world, high-intensity agriculture could result in a reduction in honey bee forage. Previous studies have investigated how the landscape surrounding honey bee hives affects some aspects of honey bee health, but to our knowledge there have been no investigations of the effects of intensively cultivated landscapes on indicators of individual bee health such as nutritional physiology and pathogen loads. Furthermore, agricultural landscapes in different regions vary greatly in forage and land management, indicating a need for additional information on the relationship between honey bee health and landscape cultivation. Here, we add to this growing body of information by investigating differences in nutritional physiology between honey bees kept in areas of comparatively low and high cultivation in an area generally high agricultural intensity in the Midwestern United States. We focused on bees collected directly before winter, because overwintering stress poses one of the most serious problems for honey bees in temperate climates. We found that honey bees kept in areas of lower cultivation exhibited higher lipid levels than those kept in areas of high cultivation, but this effect was observed only in colonies that were free of Varroa mites. Furthermore, we found that the presence of mites was associated with lower lipid levels and higher titers of deformed wing virus (DWV), as well as a non-significant trend towards higher overwinter losses. Overall, these results show that mite infestation interacts with landscape, obscuring the effects of landscape alone and suggesting that the benefits of improved foraging landscape could be lost without adequate control of mite infestations.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Mite, Apidae, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus


Using standard epidemiological methods, this study set out to quantify the risk associated with exposure to easily diagnosed factors on colony mortality and morbidity in three migratory beekeeping operations. Fifty-six percent of all colonies monitored during the 10-month period died. The relative risk (RR) that a colony would die over the short term (∼50 days) was appreciably increased in colonies diagnosed with Idiopathic Brood Disease Syndrome (IBDS), a condition where brood of different ages appear molten on the bottom of cells (RR=3.2), or with a “queen event” (e.g., evidence of queen replacement or failure; RR=3.1). We also found that several risk factors-including the incidence of a poor brood pattern, chalkbood (CB), deformed wing virus (DWV), sacbrood virus (SBV), and exceeding the threshold of 5 Varroa mites per 100 bees-were differentially expressed in different beekeeping operations. Further, we found that a diagnosis of several factors were significantly more or less likely to be associated with a simultaneous diagnosis of another risk factor. These finding support the growing consensus that the causes of colony mortality are multiple and interrelated.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Death, Medical terms, Medical statistics, Beekeeping, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus, Drone


Varroa destructor mites express strong avoidance of the Apis cerana worker brood in the field. The molecular mechanism for this phenomenon remains unknown. We identified a Varroa toxic protein (VTP), which exhibited toxic activity toward A. cerana worker larvae, in the saliva of these mites, and expressed VTP in an Escherichia coli system. We further demonstrated that recombinant VTP killed A. cerana worker larvae and pupae in the absence of deformed-wing virus (DWV) but was not toxic to A. cerana worker adults and drones. The recombinant VTP was safe for A. mellifera individuals, but resulted in elevated DWV titers and the subsequent development of deformed-wing adults. RNAi-mediated suppression of vtp gene expression in the mites partially protected A. cerana larvae. We propose a modified mechanism for Varroa mite avoidance of worker brood, due to mutual destruction stress, including the worker larvae blocking Varroa mite reproduction and Varroa mites killing worker larvae by the saliva toxin. The discovery of VTP should provide a better understanding of Varroa pathogenesis, facilitate host-parasite mechanism research and allow the development of effective methods to control these harmful mites.

Concepts: Escherichia coli, Beekeeping, Mite, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus, Varroa, Drone, Varroa jacobsoni


Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite of honey bees, is also a vector for viral diseases. The mite displays high host specificity and requires access to colonies of Apis spp. to complete its lifecycle. In contrast, the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), one of the many viruses transmitted by V. destructor, appears to have a much broader host range. Previous studies have detected DWV in a variety of insect groups that are not directly parasitized by the mite. In this study, we take advantage of the discrete distribution of the Varroa mite in the Hawaiian archipelago to compare DWV prevalence on non-Apis flower visitors, and test whether Varroa presence is linked to a “viral spillover”. We selected two islands with different viral landscapes: Oahu, where V. destructor has been present since 2007, and Maui, where the mite is absent. We sampled individuals of Apis mellifera, Ceratina smaragdula, Polistes aurifer, and Polistes exclamens, to assess and compare the DWV prevalence in the Hymenoptera community of the two islands. The results indicated that, as expected, honey bee colonies on Oahu have much higher incidence of DWV compared to Maui. Correspondingly, DWV was detected on the Non-Apis Hymenoptera collected from Oahu, but was absent in the species examined on Maui. The study sites selected shared a similar geography, climate, and insect fauna, but differed in the presence of the Varroa mite, suggesting an indirect, but significant, increase on DWV prevalence in the Hymenoptera community on mite-infected islands.

Concepts: Hawaii, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bee, Bumblebee, Varroa destructor, Deformed wing virus