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Biodiversity, impact and control of microsporidia in bumble bee (bombus spp.) pollinators

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Microsporidia - biomolecular detection in bumblebees

Europe is the world leader for breeding bumblebee colonies and supplying them to farmers for the pollination of crops. This success has been protected by a new genetic technique that can quickly and effectively identify the infection of colonies by parasites.


The use of bumblebee colonies for the pollination of crops is an extremely important and environmentally friendly agricultural activity. However, the wellbeing and diversity of these pollinators can be threatened if parasites are introduced when the bees are transported to new geographical locations. The microsporidian parasite Nosema bombi has been identified in bumblebees and was the subject of a detailed study by the POLLINATOR PARASITES project. The parasite can enter a colony through a number of different routes, including the introduction of queens taken from the wild for breeding purposes. Infection can also occur when bees return from pollinating crops. An additional route is through the feeding of colonies with material contaminated by microsporidia spores. Infection by N. bombi has a negative impact on the development and vitality of colonies and their ability to carry out pollination, and on the rearing of new queens. Because there is no known cure for the disease, infected colonies are destroyed to avoid further contamination. The research team recommended that bumblebee colonies should be examined every four weeks for any signs of N. bombi or other parasites and diseases. This enables the early detection of any infection, thereby preventing a major outbreak. The scientists from the POLLINATOR PARASITES project developed a genomic tool for the detection of N. bombi based on the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The PCR tool produced multiple copies of fragments of the microsporidium's Ribosomal RNA (rRNA). This method was superior to the conventional technique of using a light microscope when spores can be overlooked or misidentified. The use of molecular detection provided an analytical technique that was fast, accurate, cost-effective and capable of identifying all the developmental stages of N. bombi.

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