Scientists are developing a pesticide that will specifically target the Varroa mite (Photo: Hort Innovation)

August 3, 2022

Australian scientists are working on a groundbreaking hormone-based, bee-friendly Varroa pesticide.

The grower-owned research and development corporation Hort Innovation has joined forces with the University of Sydney to develop a world-first pesticide that is safe for honey bees but fatal to the Varroa mite.

As part of the $1.2 million initiative, scientists will create molecules that interfere with the hormone receptors of the Varroa mite and another honey bee pest, the small hive beetle.

The pesticide will interfere with reproduction, development and behaviour.

Hort Innovation says the target receptors are absent from vertebrates, making the pesticide safe for other beneficial animals in the environment.

Chief executive Brett Fifield said the project aimed to help safeguard Australian honey bees and would have positive impacts on horticulture production.

“Thirty per cent of global agricultural production is reliant on pollination by honey bees,” he said.

“This production is currently under threat from pests including the Varroa mite and the small hive beetle.”

Mr Fifield said pesticides were a crucial aspect of sustainable agriculture and disease control, however there was a pressing need for more environmentally friendly pesticides that have selective action against “bad” versus “good” insects.

“The development of a commercial pesticide that is fatal to Varroa mite and small hive beetle, but not honey bees, will lead to a worldwide market opportunity to export Australian-based technology.

“It will also offer a significant step toward protecting global agricultural systems that are reliant on honey bee pollination.”

La Trobe University and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute are also contributing to the five-year project.

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