Lori Zimmer

Scientists Breeding Super Bees Resistant to Mites and Disease

by , 07/17/11
filed under: Botanical, News

bees, bee breeding, parasitic mites, bee population, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, cold resistant bees

Over the last five years the world’s honey bee population has been steadily dwindling, with many beekeepers citing 2010 as the worst year yet. In order to save these extremely important insects, scientists are working on breeding a new super honey bee that they hope will be resistant to cold, disease, mites and pesticides. If all goes well, the new and improved insect will continue to pollinate our crops for years to come.

bees, bee breeding, parasitic mites, bee population, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, cold resistant beesPhoto © wildxplorer

Pesky mites, which have become immune to insecticides, have been terrorizing bees significantly for the last few years. According to the U.N., mites, along with viruses, have been responsible for killing 10-30% of Europe’s bees, one third of America’s bees and a whopping 85% of Middle Eastern bees! The external parasites are small and flat, and attach themselves to adult honey bees’ bodies, suck their bee blood and slowly kill them. What’s worse is that the mites also attack the bee brood. By planning the perfect attack, they enter the brood just before the larvae are sealed in together to develop. They feed on the developing bees, causing many of them to grow into weakened adults, often missing legs or wings. The mites spread further when bees from larger colonies “rob” smaller colonies.

Rather than fighting off mites, which seems to be an impossible process, scientists have focused on breeding stronger bees. Some bee populations in Canada have shown resistance to the mites, so they have been isolated, studied, and bred by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Being raised so far north, they are also resilient to the harsh winters of Winnipeg, a quality that European bees lack, as many do not even survive winter.

Although not a solution to the bee crisis, these Canadian bees are strong stock, and could be the “prototype” for a stronger bee population. Since bees pollinate 90% of the world’s food crops, multiple steps must be taken to preserve them, and strengthening from within seems the first logical step.

Via Fast Company

Lead photo © John Baker

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8 Comments

  1. wiljames June 21, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Could it be that use of pesticides on crops have decimated the bugs and insects that ate these mites as the mites loitered on flowers and plants? Pointing the finger at mites doesn’t lead to the root of the matter. Nor does creating ‘super’ bees that are resistant to these mites.

    Keep thinking ‘there was an old lady who swallowed a fly….’

    Study should be done on natural predators to these mites.

  2. Foxy August 30, 2011 at 2:01 am

    I think there are two points of this article that people are not seeing the importance of and the resulting problem it is going to cause. “Bees pollinate 90% of the world’s food crops” and “85% of Middle Eastern” bees dead resulting in an almost total collapse of the natural processes that feed billions of people.

    If we were able to replace all the dead bees today there would still be a an impact on our environments ability to feed us. This however is not the case and repopulation of the bees will take many years.

  3. tdeck July 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Many bee breeding programs (such as the Russian bee program in Louisiana) have totally failed to make any gains because selection on one trait often comes at the expense of another. Bees may resist mites, or fungus, or even CCD, but that rarely comes in a single package. do some background reading on linked traits and you’ll see that they are destined to become unlinked.

  4. adoptme adoptme July 14, 2011 at 4:42 am

    The general comments after this article gives a great insight and level of discussion, which is poses the question of whether melding with the natural ecology of a certain breed is a ‘good idea’. However, my immediate concern is less about the scientists and altering nature, but more on whether it should be a concern of having a later overpopulation of a certain breed of bees or insect. And, since they would be more immune to certain types of diseases, etc, wouldn’t this intervention contribute to a later problem, whereby, largely, the population of bees would be harder to stop? let’s say, if they were over-populating?

  5. binary_pattern July 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t know that much about “killer bees,” but isn’t it possible that they could interbreed with the strengthened honey bees and become an unstoppable scourge? That was the first thing this article made me think.

  6. JonS July 13, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Honestly sounds pseudo scientific to me. The various bee strains are well known and certain “survivor” types are already sold that have proven overwinter abilities. There are qualities that beekeepers are trying to encourage such as hygiene that are effective against mites – there is no such thing as resistance to a parasite. Bees that groom each other and are vigilant against pests are the first step.
    Colony Collapse Disorder – CCD – is also caused in part by pesticides which weaken the bees against pests and viruses. Oh – and I actually keep bees. Mine are from an apiary that breed for hygiene and I have no mites.

  7. lazyreader July 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Breeding disease resistance in organisms is nothing new. Almost every crop the bees pollinate are a byproduct of extensive breeding and grafting. Many genetic scientists postulated Corn is the result of thousands of years of human manipulation of maize with a plant called teosintes and traced it’s origins nearly 7-12 thousand years ago. If these bees can survive mites and diseases, here’s hoping. We’ve already bred many bee varieties.

  8. caeman July 13, 2011 at 10:54 am

    “…we have to wonder if we’re messing with natural selection a bit too much here…”

    I’ll take Questions That Are Answered With ‘Yes’ for $200, Alex.

    But, the cause of the bee’s demise might be our fault, the human race. We presented the bee with a challenge it isn’t over-coming, thus we must take extraordinary means to fix what we didn’t know we were breaking.

    The potential problems of this manipulation are legion, but we would have far worse problems on our hands WITHOUT the bees doing that pollination thing.

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