WELLINGTON, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- A simple heat treatment could help kill a disease that has devastated bee hives in China and the United States and other parts of the world, New Zealand scientists said Tuesday.
Preliminary results from a pilot study by scientists at the government's Plant and Food Research institute indicated that a breakthrough has been made in the fight against the Nosema ceranae (N. ceranae) pathogen.
It was a cousin of Nosema apis, which had been present in New Zealand since the 1800s, and both were spore-producing parasites that attacked the gut lining of bees, leading to a shortened lifespan in adults.
Severe cases of N.ceranae could cause the collapse of an entire colony, Dr Mark Goodwin said in a statement.
Because Nosema was primarily spread through feces on contaminated honeycomb, preventing infection is a near-impossible task, meaning the commercial costs associated with Nosema infection had simply been "a fact of life."
"Nosema ceranae has had a notable impact on hives and the honey industry in countries like the United States and China," said Goodwin.
During the springs of 2014 and 2015, many New Zealand beekeepers experienced severe and unexplained colony losses, which resulted in honey loss estimated at up to 60 percent for the season.
N. ceranae had first been found in New Zealand in 2010 and was identified as a potential culprit.
The scientists found that heat-treating the hives and internal comb to only 50 degrees centigrade for 90 minutes resulted in an increase in brood viability and a 50-percent increase in adult bee numbers.
The treatment was effective because heat killed N. ceranae spores lurking on contaminated comb before the new colony was introduced to the hive.
"We need to take the threat of this disease very seriously, particularly as the honey industry and the pollination services of honey bees are very important to New Zealand's economy," said Goodwin.
"The initial findings of this research are a very encouraging first step in the fight against this threat."