Biology

Breeding bees with "clean genes" could help prevent colony collapse

Breeding bees with "clean gene...
Researchers have identified genes associated with cleanliness behaviors in bees, which could ultimately help protect colonies from collapse
Researchers have identified genes associated with cleanliness behaviors in bees, which could ultimately help protect colonies from collapse
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The difference is clear between "unhygienic" bee colonies (left) and hygienic ones (right)
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The difference is clear between "unhygienic" bee colonies (left) and hygienic ones (right)
Researchers have identified genes associated with cleanliness behaviors in bees, which could ultimately help protect colonies from collapse
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Researchers have identified genes associated with cleanliness behaviors in bees, which could ultimately help protect colonies from collapse

Honeybees are increasingly under threat, even recently making it onto the endangered species list in the US for the first time. In a development that could help save these vital creatures from extinction, researchers from York University have identified a group of genes that appear to be related to how hygienic a particular colony of bees is, and selective breeding for these genes could help fight colony collapse.

In the last few years, populations of bees have drastically fallen across much of the world. No single cause has been agreed upon yet, but plenty of possible explanations have been proposed, including infections of parasites or our overzealous use of pesticides. Whatever the reason, the serious problem is that bees are one of the bottom blocks in the Jenga tower of natural ecosystems. Once they're gone, plants that rely on bees for pollination will follow, and so will the animals that eat those plants, and so on.

For the new study, the York researchers investigated a positive trait that certain colonies seem to have. Some beehives seem to be generally "cleaner" than others, and worker bees in these colonies have been observed removing the sick and the dead from the hive. These hygienic behaviors have been linked with higher chances of survival for the colony as a whole, since the pathogens are likely being taken out too.

Ideally, breeding colonies to be cleaner could make for hardier bees, offsetting some of the rapid decline of several species. So the York team sequenced the genomes of three populations of honeybees – two of which had been bred to be highly hygienic, while the third colony had more normal levels of cleanliness.

The difference is clear between "unhygienic" bee colonies (left) and hygienic ones (right)
The difference is clear between "unhygienic" bee colonies (left) and hygienic ones (right)

When they compared the three genomes, the team was able to identify at least 73 genes that seemed to be related to hygiene behaviors. With those candidates found, the researchers plan to develop tools that help beekeepers breed cleaner bees, which ultimately may help reduce the number of colonies that go on to collapse.

"Social immunity is a really important trait that beekeepers try to select in order to breed healthier colonies," says Professor Amro Zayed, corresponding author of the study. "Instead of spending a lot of time in the field measuring the hygienic behavior of colonies, we can now try breeding bees with these genetic mutations that predict hygienic behavior."

The research was published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

Source: York University

3 comments
Signguy
As usual treating the symptoms not the cause. Look at climate control which through spraying toxic metals like Aluminum Oxide, Strontium, and Barium are not only decimating bees but are also causing Dementia and Alzheimer's disease to rise by thousands of percent around the world.
KungfuSteve
Stop Spraying Chemicals and Heavy metals into the atmosphere, and there will be no Bee problem.
Jean Lamb
Ban the nicotinoids (sp) first.