> As the fight against varroa mite ramps up, researchers hope to develop honey bee-safe pesticide to control it

As the fight against varroa mite ramps up, researchers hope to develop honey bee-safe pesticide to control it

It has been just over a month now since varroa mite was detected in sentinel hives at the Port of Newcastle, with millions of bees in emergency zones since euthanased.

While authorities in New South Wales remain confident the deadly parasite can be eradicated, beekeepers could soon have a new tool to help in their fight against future outbreaks.

Australian researchers are hoping to develop a world-first hormone-based pesticide, safe for honey bees but fatal to varroa mite, and another destructive pest, the small hive beetle.

The University of Sydney research project has been underway for a year, but it could be two to three years before it is ready for commercialisation.

A man with blonde hair smiling.
Joel Mackay is leading a $1.2 million research project into developing a varroa mite pesticide.(Supplied: Joel Mackay)

Project lead Joel Mackay says indications are the fight against the current incursions will be successful as with previous detections in Australian ports over the past decade.

“Hopefully the same will happen now and we buy ourselves some more time through which we can develop technologies like the one that we’re working on,” he said.

The technology hinges on hormones and one essential hormone found in all insects and related organisms.

“Ecdysone is a hormone that controls most aspects of the development and physiology reproduction behaviour of all of these organisms, and it acts by interacting with a specific protein in the insect called the ecdyson receptor,” Professor Mackay said.

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