Science Sweetens Outlook For Honeybees

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists are working on new treatment strategies for a parasite killing our bees, and are identifying the traits needed to breed bees with stronger resistance to disease and parasites.

Stephen Pernal is AAFC’s national apiculture research scientist in Beaverlodge, Alberta who specializes in the management and detection of honeybee diseases and pests as well as the prevention of chemical residues in honey. He is working closely with international counterparts as well as the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists and the Canadian Honey Council to address emerging worldwide bee losses and help honey producers cope with these challenges.

These efforts have already lead to collaborative research projects examining honey bee health, and recently a handbook for beekeepers outlining up-to-date techniques for monitoring and treating colonies for diseases and pests, published by the Canadian Honey Council.

“We are involved in several projects related to bee health,” Pernal said.

“For example, we are examining and developing treatment strategies for Nosema ceranae, a newly introduced parasite implicated in the recent losses of colonies worldwide.

“In order to develop a treatment strategy, we need to first establish how the disease impacts colonies under Canadian conditions. This information will then help us determine how to best target the application of treatments and also help us develop safe and easy methods for beekeepers to disinfect their equipment of disease spores.”

In another project, Pernal is developing a marker-assisted selection technique for improved breeding of bees resistant to American foulbrood disease and parasitic Varroa mites.

“We are collaborating with colleagues from the University of British Columbia to identify proteins from bees that are associated with resistance traits,” he said. “These proteins, or markers, will be used by beekeepers to easily and rapidly select stock from which to breed that they know will have resistance to disease and Varroa mites.

“Our goal is to have a quick test, perhaps much like a pregnancy test, that will tell bee breeders that a particular colony has desirable traits without the need to use specialized, time-consuming assays that most breeders would be unable to perform. This approach will also speed up the number of rounds of selection that may be done in a season.

“Simply stated, the technology will help beekeepers to breed more resistant stock, in a more timely manner. Such stock is an important element in a long-term solution to solving bee losses in Canada.”

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