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A unique population of honeybees isolated for perhaps the last 10,000 years has been found living at an oasis in the northern Sahara Desert.
The bees are of the same species, Apis mellifera, that are crucial to America's food supply, responsible for one in every three bites of food on our plates. But when researchers examined colonies around the oasis of Kufra in Libya, they found them to be genetically distinct from any other known population.
The genetic differences indicate the bees have been marooned at Kufra since between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, when shifting climate patterns turned a verdant ancient savanna into today's parched desert. Only the area's natural supply of groundwater keeps life hanging on.
Even more telling, the bees of Kufra showed no signs of the Varroa destructor parasite, an often deadly infestation that is easily spread among honeybees throughout most of the world.
Bees living at Kufra are also free from the Varroa destructor parasitic mite, which is decimating colonies around the world and has been implicated in a global decline of honeybee populations.