As we have reported previously, we have been very busy tackling the mountain of antenna samples that need to be dissected to analyze their proteins and ultimately find markers for selective breeding. Now, we are happy to report that all the antenna samples are finally processed and we’ve moved on to the only slightly less daunting task: protein extraction. To put the scale of this project into perspective, over 50,000 individual bees have now been dissected, making a total of ~2,700 samples to analyze. This is a mind-boggling number of samples: after the protein is prepared, it will take one mass spectrometry instrument (the piece of equipment that lets us identify and measure the proteins) about 250 days to complete the analysis. However, the data to come out the other end will certainly be worth it!
Project BeeOmics is marching ahead but has suffered some set-backs over the last few months. It was a very sad day when we received a bee sample shipment from Quebec and found, to our horror, that the samples were useless. Apparently Purolator was overwhelmed with shipments because of the bubbling talk of a strike at Canada Post, and they fell far behind their deadlines. For most shipments, that wouldn’t be a serious problem, but these precious samples that many people worked days or weeks to prepare had to be kept frozen. This is because a major goal of Project BeeOmics is to analyze the proteins in bee tissues, looking for ones that correlate with useful traits; however, the proteins break down at room temperature (think: rot). Of course, sitting in the depot for an extra weekend meant all the dry ice evaporated and the samples became degraded and unusable. Very sad. Also, with the end of the summer came a big loss in helping hands – our summer students have helped immensely with processing the samples, but there were too many samples to complete by the end of the summer. In time, we will get there, but it means there will be another issue or two before we can put together some preliminary reports to share.
Project BeeOmics is now well under-way, with all the BC colony samples already processed and the Alberta samples rolling in. Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec will be following soon. From these samples (and with a lot of extra helping hands), we are starting to get a look at the molecular differences between the colonies. Once all the data is in, we will relate this information to the other traits we’re measuring (aggression, honey production, innate immunity, hygienic behavior, etc.). What we hope to find are groups of genes or proteins linked to each trait, creating a molecular signature, or fingerprint, that we can use in the same way we are now for hygienic behaviour. When the project is complete, we should be able to take samples from a beekeeper’s breeder colonies, read their molecular fingerprint and use this information to suggest which colonies to breed from to get the nicest, healthiest bees in the next generation. All without taking rigorous notes or doing your own tests! We are excited to share some preliminary data soon.
Project BeeOmics is kicking off across Canada this summer, so we will have lots of exciting updates to share throughout the coming years. This $7.3 million project will involve ~1,000 colonies all the way from BC to Quebec. Based on our previous success with breeding for hygienic behaviour, the goal of Project BeeOmics is to develop selective breeding tools for 11 additional beneficial traits. Right now, protocols are being finalized and equipment has just been shipped out to the provinces. BC will be leading the pack by testing colonies for aggression, Varroa infestation, hygienic behavior, innate immunity and a suite of other characteristics. With the field season already here (early April swarms again this year!), the UBC team is rushing to get all the supplies ready and start testing!