BeeOMICS researchers decipher the genetics of social immunity in honey bees

A team composed of a large number of BeeOMICS researchers led by Dr. Amro Zayed mapped out parts of the honey bee genome that affect hygienic behaviour – a trait that allows honey bee colonies to resist the spread of pathogens and disease. Please see the official press release here from York University. 

Here is a link to the article:
Brock A Harpur, M Marta Guarna, Elizabeth Huxter, Heather Higo, Kyung-Mee Moon, Shelley E Hoover, Abdullah Ibrahim, Andony P Melathopoulos, Suresh Desai, Robert W Currie, Stephen F Pernal, Leonard J Foster, Amro Zayed; Integrative Genomics Reveals the Genetics and Evolution of the Honey Bee’s Social Immune System, Genome Biology and Evolution, , evz018,

The results are in: Support for marker-assisted selection breeding model

Hello everyone! Thank you very much to all the beekeepers who participated in our survey. And if you have not yet participated, it’s not too late (you can still find the survey here)! So far, we have had well over 100 respondents collectively representing 15% of all managed Canadian honey bee colonies. Here is what they had to say.


First, some preliminary information. We wanted to know more about the current state of the industry, namely, how colonies and queens are replaced and where they come from:




The system that is currently in place is very likely going to remain the cheapest option for beekeepers, but we wanted to know if there is a desire for higher queen quality, local queens, and if people will be willing to pay extra for queens satisfying their top two most desired traits. The responses to these questions were very encouraging, showing that there is indeed a demand for the service we are developing!




In order to benefit beekeepers the most, we wanted to know what traits are considered the most important to strive for. The results show that honey production, gentleness, overwintering success and hygienic behaviour are the top four most desirable traits.




To get a sense of what the perceived risks in the industry are, we asked “What are the biggest risks to sustainable beekeeping in Canada?” The top risk factors outlined here overlap partially, but not completely, with the actual causes of colony losses (as self-reported) over the last two years.




Finally, since marker-assisted selection is a new technology to the beekeeping industry, we wanted to know if the concept was supported or not. We are happy to see that despite having very little experience with it, beekeepers are generally interested in sending samples for MAS testing.




The combined results of all these questions tells us that there is a solid foundation of willingness, demand and interest to support kicking this service off the ground. Thanks again to everyone who participated!

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).