ABC Rural By Anna Vidot
A young scientist is working to immunise Australian honeybees against killer viruses, to prepare them for any future incursion of the deadly varroa mite.
The parasite has spread around the world, causing colony collapse and threatening agricultural industries that rely on bees for pollination.
Dr Emily Remnant, a research scientist based at the University of Sydney, has received the Agriculture Minister’s science and innovation award in recognition of her work.
She said the viruses spread by varroa mites are just as big a problem as the parasites themselves.
So, Dr Remnant hopes to use the same bacteria that is currently being used to combat dengue fever in Cairns mosquitoes, to tackle bee viruses.
“Current research has identified that [while] varroa mites are a parasite, it is actually the viruses that they spread which cause colony loss and death in the bees,” she said.
“So in isolation the viruses and the mite aren’t problematic, but once you unite the two, that’s when the problems start.”
Dr Emily Remnant receives her award
PHOTO: Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston presents Dr Emily Remnant with the Minister’s Award for science and innovation, at the ABARES Outlook gala dinner in Canberra - 7 March 2017 (Supplied: Twitter)
Dr Remnant is currently spending time at the University of Otago in New Zealand, learning how to inject honeybee eggs with the bacteria.
"As you may imagine, they’re quite small.
“We use these tiny glass capillary needles that have very small tips, and we have the embryos under a microscope and we basically use a pressurised micro-injector to inject the bacteria into the eggs.”
The Agriculture Minister’s award comes with a $22,000 grant, which Dr Remnant says will allow her to buy the equipment she needs to continue her work back home in Sydney.
Preliminary tests will begin over the next few months, ramping up in spring when honeybee queens are laying most of their eggs.
Dr Remnant says the goal is to make bees more resilient to viruses, so they can survive if - or when - varroa mite finally makes it to Australian shores.
"We’ve got a unique opportunity to prevent the losses that the rest of the world are experiencing, and I feel like we have the chance to immunise our bees before they suffer the same fate.
“Australia’s pretty lucky, and I’d like to help us stay the lucky country.”