A British beekeeper has developed a strain of bee that is resistant to a pest that has been killing off the insect world's bees over the past 18 years. The varroa mite, which is thought to be one of the main causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, and which has developed a resistance to other methods of control, may just have met its match.
Ron Hopkins, a 79-year-old beekeeper from Swindon, discovered using a microscope that bees in one of his hives had learned how to remove the parasite from each others' bodies by grooming each other. So Mr Hopkins set about trying to spread the genes of his "grooming" bees to his other hives, using artificial insemination. It worked, and now he's hoping that it will spread via wandering queens to the rest of the bee population in Britain.
Hopkins knows that the Swindon Honeybee, as his strain has been named, is not a short-term solution. "It will take a lot of work, but it could be our only hope of saving the bee," he said today. "What I want to do is redevelop the British bee so that it can protect itself against these varroa mites. If all the bees in the world die out, then we die out. The situation is really that serious."
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there has been a sharp decline in the world's bee population over the past decade. (The U.S. has lost a third of its honeybees since 2006.) And without bees, there is no pollination, which means less fruit and vegetables, and more carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, due to there being less plants around.
There is already a bee-saving push going on on the other side of the Atlantic. As well as lighter-hearted projects such as luxury bee hotel design competitions, supermarket chain Sainsbury's went for the real deal, putting up beehives at some of its branches.