A gene for resistance to the Varroa mite (Acari) in honey bee (Apis mellifera) pupae

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Benjamin H. Conlon, Adriana Aurori, Alexandru Ioan Giurgiu, John Kefuss, Daniel S. Dezmirean, Robin F. A. Moritz, Jarkko Routtu

Social insect colonies possess a range of defences which protect them against highly virulent parasites and colony collapse. The host–parasite interaction between honey bees (Apis mellifera) and the mite Varroa destructor is unusual, as honey bee colonies are relatively poorly defended against this parasite. The interaction has existed since the mid-20th Century, when Varroa switched host to parasitize A. mellifera. The combination of a virulent parasite and relatively naïve host means that, without acaricides, honey bee colonies typically die within 3 years of Varroa infestation. A consequence of acaricide use has been a reduced selective pressure for the evolution of Varroa resistance in honey bee colonies. However, in the past 20 years, several natural-selection-based breeding programmes have resulted in the evolution of Varroa-resistant populations. In these populations, the inhibition of Varroa's reproduction is a common trait. Using a high-density genome-wide association analysis in a Varroa-resistant honey bee population, we identify an ecdysone-induced gene significantly linked to resistance. Ecdysone both initiates metamorphosis in insects and reproduction in Varroa. Previously, using a less dense genetic map and a quantitative trait loci analysis, we have identified Ecdysone-related genes at resistance loci in an independently evolved resistant population. Varroa cannot biosynthesize ecdysone but can acquire it from its diet. Using qPCR, we are able to link the expression of ecdysone-linked resistance genes to Varroa's meals and reproduction. If Varroa co-opts pupal compounds to initiate and time its own reproduction, mutations in the host's ecdysone pathway may represent a key selection tool for honey bee resistance and breeding.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)2958-2966
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • co-evolution, ecdysone, host, parasite, reproduction, social insect

ID: 224022476