University of Otago biochemist Associate Prof Peter Dearden
takes a closer look at a young adult honeybee. Photo by
A new era of smart insecticides that do not kill bees may
be closer, thanks to a $920,000 grant to University of Otago
biochemist Associate Prof Peter Dearden.
Bees play an important role in New Zealand economy, but have
come under pressure recently because of varroa mites, which
have killed many of the country's wild bees.
New Zealand's honey exports are valued at more than $100
million a year, and the overall economic benefit of bees,
including for pollinating a wide range of plants, is
estimated at $5.1 billion.
Prof Dearden was ''delighted'' to receive the funding, which
was part of about $1.9 million recently granted to Otago
University researchers, from this year's $278 million
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment round.
Prof Dearden, who is also director of Genetics Otago, said it
was ''really good'' to get the funding, ''because what we're
doing is quite cutting-edge''.
Existing pesticides protected crops from pests such as
aphids, flies and moths but also killed other insects,
including bees, while not harming mammals.
Because New Zealand bees were already under pressure from the
varroa mite, it was sensible to undertake genetic research
which could help develop pesticides that did not harm bees.
''Our previous research has identified a novel target in the
genomes of pest insects that is missing from bees.
''Finding this target gives us hope that developing chemicals
that interfere with these novel targets will produce an
effective insecticide against pests, which has no impact on
bees,'' he said.
Two other researchers in the Otago biochemistry department,
Dr Monica Gerth and Dr Wayne Patrick, have gained $1 million
for a project involving ''manufacturing molecules through
This research aims to develop new bio-manufacturing processes
for two chemicals - butanone and 2-butanol - that are
produced from petroleum.
Butanone was a key ingredient in paints and adhesives, and
2-butanol was converted into synthetic rubbers, particularly
car tyres, the researchers said.