Breeding a Better Bee?

By Idolina Maldonado

Central Texas Bee RescueMegan Garber, of The Atlantic has recently published an article discussing the possibility of combating colony collapse disorder by genetically diversifying bees. There are currently 28 different types of honey bees across the world and it is thought that by using interbreeding techniques bee offspring will have a better chance of survival. Researchers from Washington State University (WSU) have come up with the idea of creating a bee semen bank and cross breeding bees to produce stronger bees. Flicker Photo provided by Bob Peterson

Bob Hoffman of WSU discusses the Honey Bee Restriction Act of 1922, which banned the importing of bees during the early 20th century to prevent the spread of trachel mites from English honey bees. However, during the 1980’s United States bees were still plagued with Varroa mites and without intervention, these mites killed hives within two years. Tammy Horn, of The New York Times, states that U.S. beekeepers lost about 80% of their colonies. The ban was partially lifted in 2004.

Morgan E. Peck, of Discover Magazine, states that in addition to pesticides and mite infestations, bees have succumbed to inbreeding. She states that one study by Heather Matilda compares a natural state hive with 15 drone fathers to a commercial hive with one drone father.

Interestingly, Matilda found that the hive that was more similar to its natural state stored more honey, foraged for longer periods of time, and grew faster! The one drone father colony did not manage to store enough supplies to last one Winter.

In 2008, researchers at WSU were given permission by the USDA to import bee semen from various countries in an effort to diversify the bee population. This diversity would meet the needs of bees from each region and overcome current bee health conditions.  They hope to use the “strongest and best stock” from European bees and impregnate the “strongest and best queen bee” in the U.S. in efforts to improve bee survival.

Researchers plan to keep bee semen in liquid nitrogen, which is known to keep semen viable for decades.

What are your thoughts on genetically diversifying bees to help offspring survive current health conditions? Please share your opinions, research or comments below.

1 Comment

  • duane pool Posted July 29, 2013 11:47 pm

    Wonderful article! It is refreshing to see research efforts lean towards saving our bee population verses the genetic altering of food sources for example. This seems to be a wiser use of technology to address our current and most pressing environmental issues.

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