A gene drive does not spread easily in populations of the honey bee parasite Varroa destructor

N. R. Faber, A. B. Meiborg, G. R. McFarlane, G. Gorjanc and B. A. Harpur,  Apidologie,  52:1112-1127. 2022.

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are the most significant threat to beekeeping worldwide. They are directly or indirectly responsible for millions of colony losses each year. Beekeepers are somewhat able to control varroa populations through the use of physical and chemical treatments. However, these methods range in effectiveness, can harm honey bees, can be physically demanding on the beekeeper, and do not always provide complete protection from varroa. More importantly, in some populations varroa mites have developed resistance to available acaricides. Overcoming the varroa mite problem will require novel and targeted treatment options. Here, we explore the potential of gene drive technology to control varroa. We show that spreading a neutral gene drive in varroa is possible but requires specific colony-level management practices to overcome the challenges of both inbreeding and haplodiploidy. Furthermore, continued treatment with acaricides is necessary to give a gene drive time to fix in the varroa population. Unfortunately, a gene drive that impacts female or male fertility does not spread in varroa. Therefore, we suggest that the most promising way forward is to use a gene drive which carries a toxin precursor or removes acaricide resistance alleles. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s13592-021-00891-5.

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