New, improved bees, courtesy genetics

October 22nd, 2008 - 5:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 22 (IANS) A honey bee stock developed by a group of US scientists is hygienic, productive and resistant to pests and diseases, showing genetic promise in aiding the troubled bee industry.”I’m really pleased with the stock,” said Susan Cobey, bee breeder-geneticist of the University of California-Davis. “The bees are very gentle, very hygienic and very productive, and hopefully will confer increased resistance to pests and disease.”

Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC-Davis said genetic research is sorely needed. “Although we spend a considerable amount of time trying to find short-term fixes to our honey bee disease and pest control problems, in the long run, the genetic solution of resistant stocks will be a better solution.”

“Our focus,” Cobey said, “is to identify, select, and enhance honey bee stocks that show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases.”

Cobey initially developed the New World Carnolians stock, a dark race of honey bees, in the early 1980s by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the US to create a more pure strain, according to an UC release.

“Over time, it has proven very productive, winter hardy, well-tempered and more resistant to pests and disease,” she said. The scientists imported semen from Germany in 2006 and again this year, increasing the purity.

Cobey said genetic diversity, the raw tools for selection, is critical “in maintaining colony fitness and resisting pests and diseases”. The honey bee (Apis mellifera), initially brought from Europe to America in 1622 and to California in 1853, is declining in population.

Mussen and Cobey attribute the decline to multiple factors: diseases, pesticides, parasites, malnutrition, stress, climate change, and colony collapse disorder, in which bees mysteriously abandon their hives.

Pollination issues plague the beekeeping industry, Cobey said. “Honey bees pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. Without bees, we wouldn’t have the fruits, vegetables and nuts we enjoy. Bees are critical to our food supply, especially in California, the bread basket of the country.”

Cobey collaborates with a team of scientists from Canada, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state.

The UC-Davis scientist will present her work at the California State Beekeepers’ Association’s 119th annual convention Nov 11-13 in Harrah’s, Lake Tahoe and at the Almond Board Convention in Modesto in early December.

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