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The Tech Behind a COVID-19 Vaccine Could Help Save Honeybees

According to the preliminary results released by the Bee Informed Partnership, nearly half of the managed bee colonies in the United States were lost this past year. The biggest threat to honeybee colonies is the varroa destructor, an invasive and parasitic mite that feeds on bees. Beekeepers have been fighting to keep them under control for decades.

A glimmer of hope has emerged in the form of a new technology developed by Boston-based biotechnology company Greenlight Biosciences. They have created an anti-mite RNA treatment for beehives, inspired by the technology used in Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. RNA manipulation shows great potential in combating various pests and diseases across the agricultural spectrum.

Instead of traditional sprays or vapors, Greenlight Biosciences' RNA treatment takes the form of a white, padded pouch filled with syrup. The RNA-laden sugar solution is placed inside the hive, where nurse bees feed it to their brood. This innovative approach aims to suppress the varroa mite population and reduce the negative impact on honeybee colonies.

While the RNA treatment shows great promise, it is still undergoing field trials and regulatory approval. Greenlight Biosciences anticipates that the treatment will become commercially available to beekeepers within the next two years.

Another invasive mite that reproduces at an even faster rate, called Tropilaelaps, has recently been spotted on U.S. soil, but the versatility of this RNA-based treatment means they can switch the formulation to target this mite, too.

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