University of Otago geneticist Peter Dearden with one of his study subjects. (image: University of Otago)
Peter Dearden, a geneticist at the University of Otago, describes honey bees as the most important insects on Earth because of the role they play as pollinators. But bees are in trouble worldwide. In New Zealand, the main threat is the Varroa mite which has decimated feral bee colonies throughout the country, but bees are also unintentional targets of the chemicals we use to control insect pests that can damage crops.
The importance of bees is reflected in the fact that they are the second insect, after the fruit fly Drosophila, whose complete genome has been sequenced. Having studied the larval development of bees and other fundamental aspects of bee physiology and genetics, Peter is now using the knowledge gleaned from the bee genome to develop insecticides that remain effective against pest insects but spare bees.