Calling all bee breeders!

Queen apis mellifera honey beeDo you breed honey bee queens in Canada and want to contribute to Project BeeOmics? Do you have time for a 15-20 minute survey? If so, we would love to hear from you! The ultimate goal of Project BeeOmics is to offer a new molecular diagnostic service that can guide selective breeding for beneficial traits, including colony survival, temperament, honey production and pathogen resistance. Before the service can be implemented, we need to gather more information from breeders – from hobbyists to full-blown commercial operations – who might want to take advantage of this technology. Even if you only breed queens for your personal use, your feedback here would be much appreciated. This information will be a very important tool to help us understand the current state of queen breeding and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead as we strive to strengthen this industry.

By taking our survey, you are helping to shape the future of this technology. Everything from your timing for queen production, what you consider a reasonable cost for molecular diagnostics, or if you’re even interested in this service at all – these factors will all come into play in getting this service off the ground. Ultimately, this is a tool for breeders, and we need you to tell us how you can make the best use of it.

We are still looking for breeders to participate – if this sounds like something you are interested in, please take our online survey or contact Dr. Miriam Bixby ( if you have any questions.

Q&A with Leonard Foster

ljfOct. 15th, 2016

Leonard Foster, the leader of Project BeeOmics, talked to beekeepers and scientists at this year’s BC Honey Producers Association annual conference. A lively discussion with the audience ensued.

Q: Are you worried about breeding a bee that is too hygienic?

A: Being too hygienic is not likely a problem, but what we do need to be thinking about is that we don’t want to select too strongly in one direction to the detriment of other traits. That’s one reason why we’re expanding the marker panel to include things like honey production and gentleness, so that we can find out if this is happening and hopefully balance it if it does.

Q: Will this kind of selective breeding reduce genetic diversity?

A: Theoretically, but our goal is not to create a single hygienic stock. Instead, we are creating the tools for queen breeders to use themselves – if breeders across the country use the tool, rather than a common stock, then diversity should be maintained. Bees have been selectively bred for many hundreds of years, but domestic honey bees do not have unusually low genetic diversity.

Q: Are projects like this being done in other places?

A: As far as we know, this is the only marker-assisted selection work being done with protein markers. There are some groups interested in similar topics in the States but we try to work with them, rather than compete.

Q: Your hygienic bees had much better overwintering survival even with very high Varroa levels going into winter. Were the surviving colonies thriving or were they just treading water?

A: The surviving colonies were actually quite strong and the Varroa levels had gone back down in the spring.

Q: You are using protein markers for breeding. Have you considered micro RNA too?

A: Not yet, but that is something that’s in progress.

Q: Using diagnostics for selective breeding sounds attractive, but would a “let it be” selective method based on survival achieve similar results?

A: Maybe, but a queen breeder can’t afford to lose that many colonies. Using markers would also let you do more than one round of selection per year and look at many traits at once. Survival is the bottom line but once that’s under control, it would be great to select for other traits as well, which may or may not influence survival (e.g. gentleness, surplus honey).

Fall 2016 project update

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.

Summer 2016 project update

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.

Spring 2016 project update

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!