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Entomology, Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Toxicology

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Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are parasitic mites that, combined with other factors, are contributing to high levels of honey bee (Apis mellifera) colony losses. A Varroa-active dsRNA was recently developed to control Varroa mites within honey bee brood cells. This dsRNA has 372 base pairs that are homologous to a sequence region within the Varroa mite calmodulin gene (cam). The Varroa-active dsRNA also shares a 21-base pair match with monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) calmodulin mRNA, raising the possibility of non-target effects if there is environmental exposure. We chronically exposed the entire monarch larval stage to common (Asclepias syriaca) and tropical (Asclepias curassavica) milkweed leaves treated with concentrations of Varroa-active dsRNA that are one- and ten-fold higher than those used to treat honey bee hives. This corresponded to concentrations of 0.025–0.041 and 0.211–0.282 mg/g leaf, respectively. Potassium arsenate and a previously designed monarch-active dsRNA with a 100% base pair match to the monarch v-ATPase A mRNA (leaf concentration was 0.020–0.034 mg/g) were used as positive controls. The Varroa mite and monarch-active dsRNA’s did not cause significant differences in larval mortality, larval or pupal development, pupal weights, or adult eclosion rates when compared to negative controls. Irrespective of control or dsRNA treatment, larvae that consumed approximately 7500 to 10,500-mg milkweed leaf within 10 to 12 days had the highest pupal weights. The lack of mortality and sublethal effects following dietary exposure to dsRNA with 21-base pair and 100% base pair match to mRNAs that correspond to regulatory genes suggest monarch mRNA may be refractory to silencing by dsRNA or monarch dsRNase may degrade dsRNA to a concentration that is insufficient to silence mRNA signaling.


This article is published as Krishnan N, Hall MJ, Hellmich RL, Coats JR, Bradbury SP (2021) Evaluating toxicity of Varroa mite (Varroa destructor)-active dsRNA to monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larvae. PLoS ONE 16(6): e0251884. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0251884.


This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.



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