BDI announce major funding into the relationship between honey bees, Deformed Wing Virus and the Varroa mite

August 2015 - BDI is pleased to announce it has agreed to provide major funding of ground breaking research into the relationship between the honey bee and the parasitic varroa mite, in a project code named REViVe (Rolling out the Evolution of resistance to Varroa and DWV).

The three year project will be undertaken jointly by Dr Declan Schroder from The Marine Biological Association (The MBA) based in Plymouth, and Prof Stephen Martin from The School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Salford University.

Pupae with varroa mite
Bee showing signs of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV)
Adult bees with Varroa mites clearly visible

After the varroa mite was first found in the UK in 1992, many beekeepers have used a variety of chemical and biological methods of keeping the mite population under control, to minimise the effects on their colonies. As would be expected naturally resistant populations of bees have not therefore evolved and the widespread collapse of feral colonies has followed on. There have however been a very small number of populations of European honey bees that appeared across the globe that persist without any form of varroa control.

Initial research into a UK population of varroa tolerant bees, suggest that a new equilibrium between the honey bees, deformed wing virus (DWV) and varroa has been established which may help to explain the long term survival of a UK mite resistant colony. Full details of this work is currently awaiting publication.

This major project will look at what happens to colonies of resistant bees that are moved into other areas. This work is important, as it is not only necessary to be able to identify what enables these bee populations to survive untreated for varroa, but also to be able to work on the mechanisms that would enable these traits to be assimilated into the wider bee populations.

Dr Declan Schroeder said 'At The MBA in Plymouth we access to state-of-the-art facilities to enable us to undertake this work. As a leading virology research centre we are ideally placed to continue this ground breaking work. Our initial research has provided us with a new mechanism of disease resistance in honey bees and it is great to be able to take this to the next stage'

Prof Stephen Martin commented 'I was fortunate to lead a team of researchers that looked at the way varroa spread though the honey bee populations as it arrived in Hawaii. In particular we were able to monitor the way that the virus loads changed in bees as they were newly colonised by the mite. Comparing these viral loads with the isolated colonies that have survived may well lead us to apply the DWV / varroa resistance mechanisms to other honey bee populations.

Martin Smith, BDI's President added 'BDI is delighted to be providing significant funding of £45,000 over three years to this project. This funding comes from our newly established major research fund. Whilst our core business is providing insurance cover against the costs of replacing equipment destroyed as a result of an outbreak of notifiable disease, we also provide funding into the causes of bee diseases, thus promoting healthy bee populations. Varroa and its viruses remains the number one killer of honey bee colonies and the more understanding of how some isolated colonies are able to survive is to be welcomed.' 'The teams from Plymouth and Salford have discovered an important breakthrough in the fight against this parasitic mite.’

Finally, the board of BDI were particularly keen to fund this project rather than looking at treatments for reducing the mite population, this research has the potential to find a way in which our honey bee colonies can co-exist with this mite. It is our view that this could potentially lead to not having to continually treat our colonies with chemical or biological treatment.'


BDI is a registered Community Benefit Society that offers insurance against loss of beekeeping equipment to beekeepers in England and Wales who have had their colonies destroyed or shook swarmed by a Bee Inspector as a result of being infected by a notifiable disease. In addition it provides funding in the field of bee research and education to promote a healthy bee population. BDI is funded by subscriptions and premiums paid by the beekeepers who belong to its member associations that consist of the majority of beekeepers in England and Wales.

The MBA at Plymouth provides access to comprehensive state-of-the-art facilities in all aspects of the work presented in REViVe. The MBA hosts a well-appointed cell and molecular biology laboratory that includes: protein and nucleic acid preparation and separation technology, high throughput quantitative PCR, biolistics and electroporation technologies. They have an advanced optical microscopy, including confocal and multiphoton microscopes (three in total). All microscopes are variously equipped with electrophysiological, manipulation and microinjection apparatus. A recently revamped cell culturing facility, which includes the MBA Culture Collection of algae and phytoplankton, is now under the new management of Dr Schroeder. REViVe will expand the MBA’s culturing capabilities to include honey bee cell line culturing. Dr Schroeder is a Senior MBA Research Fellow with over twenty years of research experience as a molecular biologist in the area of biodiversity, pathology, virology and genomics. His background in cell and molecular biology has equipped him with the tools to address fundamental research questions in both the marine and terrestrial environments. These include the effects of viruses on marine carbon and sulphur cycle, ocean acidification, honey bee health and metal and PAH induced ecotoxicology. He has developed close collaborative links with Prof Stephen Martin in Salford and Prof Ian Jones in Reading; allowing further access to honey bee experimental apiaries and virus manipulation facilities, respectively.

The honey bee research team at Salford currently consists of a small but dedicated team of people all focusing on the understanding of the honeybee-varroa-DWV association. The team is led by Professor Stephen Martin and includes Laura Brettell who is in part supported by the BBKA, and is just finishing her first year of PHD studies. With years of working as a research assistant on DWV Laura is making rapid progress unravelling the genetic language of the virus. For the last two years Dr. Emilene Corrie from Brazil has been in Salford working on honey bee glands and is currently doing a diseases survey of her home country. Next year Emi returns to Brazil to take over the running of a long-term project that has been set up in order to understand why their bees do not appear to be affected by varroa or the virus. As of October the team will have the BDI supported Jessica Kevill for the next four years. Jessica is already an experienced beekeeper and keen to learn new skills. Having been one of Salford's top 3rd year project students Jessica will make a great addition to the team. During the next year Salford will host a one year PhD sandwich student Canada Silva, again from Brazil. Salford also hosted Marina Vincent from Spain during her PhD last year and hope to get her back into Salford next year, as she was an excellent addition to the unit.