Researchers develop first rapid test to detect bee viruses

Rapid and reliable results in just a few minutes

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Researchers from the Institute of Virology at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, working as part of the interdisciplinary Future Bee 2 project, have developed a rapid test to detect three important viruses affecting bees. Compared to previous tests, the new rapid test offers the significant advantage that results are available within just a few minutes. It is also the first test capable of detecting more than just one type of virus. And it is relatively inexpensive. The FASTest Bee 3T rapid virus test for honeybee colonies was recently brought to market together with corporate partner Megacor.

The rapid virus test for bees was developed by Till Rümenapf, Head of the Institute of Virology at Vetmeduni, and Kerstin Seitz, also from the Institute of Virology, with the aim of offering veterinarians and beekeepers an inexpensive and uncomplicated testing system. The new test is the first that allows the rapid and simultaneous diagnosis of three viral diseases, all of which are associated with significant losses of honeybee colonies: deformed wing virus (DWV), sacbrood virus (SBV) and acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV).

FASTest Bee 3T: rapid and reliable results in just a few minutes

Compared to the previous diagnostic procedure of sending samples to a laboratory, the new FASTest Bee 3T rapid virus test simplifies the process considerably. The test can be performed directly at the hives, with results available in a matter of minutes.

The test procedure begins with the collection of five freshly dead bees, which are crushed in a special disposable sample tube. Following addition of a buffer diluent, three test strips are placed into the tube. Results are available within ten minutes. As with the Covid rapid antigen test, a control line becomes visible on each test strip if the procedure was carried out correctly and a test line appears if the result is positive. A positive result allows beekeepers to initiate the necessary measures more quickly than before.

A game changer at a fraction of the cost

“We see the test as a real game changer. FASTest Bee 3T makes it possible to incorporate objective criteria into Varroa control on site, in addition to standard beekeeping practice. A decisive factor is the cost of the tests, which is only a fraction of the laboratory diagnostic PCR analysis that had previously been necessary,” as the two test developers, Till Rümenapf and Kerstin Seitz, explain. According to the researchers, their test also proves that veterinary medicine can provide important new innovations for bee health.

Rapid virus test an excellent indicator of Varroa mite infestation

All three of the virus diseases mentioned are closely linked to the presence of the Varroa mite, as the mite serves as a vector transmitting the viruses to the bees, which then die off more frequently. If this happens in autumn, the colony will have too few winter bees, which are important for overwintering success, and the colony will perish as a result. The bee viruses, which are practically always present in small quantities, cause colony losses above all when the bees are critically infested with the Varroa mite. Varroa mite infestation is the main cause of winter mortality, which in turn correlates strongly with virus concentrations.

The FASTtest Bee 3T rapid virus test utilises this correlation to determine a dangerous infestation of Varroa mites at an early stage using virus detection. Because where there are viruses, there are mites. This saves beekeepers valuable time, as effective measures against mites must be taken early enough. Too often, the measures come too late because the actual mite infestation was underestimated.

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