British Columbia

Bee breeding goes molecular with new UBC research

Throughout history, humans have selectively bred all manner of crops and livestock. Now, some UBC researchers are turning their attention to bees.

Researchers want bees that are more resistant to disease, among other qualities

UBC researchers want to breed bees that produce more honey, are less aggressive, are more resilient to the Canadian winter and better polinate crops. (iStock)

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are working to breed queen bees with valuable genetic traits that will make them stronger at fighting off disease.

Bees around the world have been dying off in alarming numbers over the past seven to eight years, says Leonard Foster, one of the researchers on the project. And B.C. is no exception.

He blames diseases, pests and pathogens that have been allowed to "run rampant" in bee colonies.

"What we're trying to do is what humans have been doing with livestock for, really, thousands of years, which is to selectively breed for traits that are valuable to us," he told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"What we're trying to do in this project is bring modern molecular tools to bear on this issue."

Foster says trait selection in honey bees has fallen behind selective breeding in other crops and livestock. That's because it's hard to see with the naked eye what makes one bee better than the next.

One interesting trait Foster and his team are looking to breed for is a predisposition to hygienic behaviours within a colony.

"Hygienic bees are better at removing dead or dying larvae or pupae or other adult bees from the colony," he said.

"By getting those bees out and the diseases that they have, they enable the colony to survive those diseases more effectively."

Foster and his team also want their bees to produce more honey, be less aggressive, be more resilient to the Canadian winter and better pollinate crops.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: U-Bee-C: researchers attempting to selectively breed better bees


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