New research will help honeybee breeders out of a sticky situation

    PRINCE GEORGE, BC, Oct. 24 /CNW/ - Canadians may have noticed that there
were decidedly fewer bees buzzing about their gardens and parks this past
    In the past year alone, nearly 36 percent of all Canada's honeybees died
over winter, more than twice the normal mortality rate of 15 percent. The
trend in BC is no less severe, with select geographic areas such as Vancouver
Island and the Peace River District suffering far greater losses.
    According to Paul van Westendorp, BC's Provincial Apiculturist, these
numbers are simply not sustainable for breeders, and pose serious
environmental and economic risks, not to mention threatening the Province's
food supply.
    "Reduced honey production is only the tip of the iceberg," he says. "When
we look at what bees do in the larger context of agriculture, which is most
notable in terms of crop pollination, we are talking about a value of $200 to
300 million a year in BC alone."
    So why are the number of bees dropping at such an alarming rate? It seems
that the mites and bacteria, which have plagued them for years, are becoming
increasingly resistant to traditional treatments such miticides and
antibiotics. The bees are unable to defend themselves, and those without
natural genetic resistance inevitably die.
    But a new Genome BC research project will soon put advanced genomics
tools into the hands of bee breeders, enabling them select only the strongest,
most resistant bees for breeding programs.
    Dr. Leonard Foster is leading a one-of-a-kind research project entitled
Apis mellifera Proteomics of Innate reSistance,that will be announced at the
BC Bee Breeders Association annual conference on October 24.
    Dr. Foster (UBC) and his fellow investigators Dr. Stephen Pernal
(Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and Dr. Katherine Baylis (UBC) will develop
a set of tools to identify disease resistance in natural bee populations.
    The researchers will use the bee genome to identify molecular markers of
resistance to both mite and bacterial infections by doing proteomic analysis
of different bee populations.
    "By understanding the traits that make bees naturally resistant to
pathogens the long-term hope is that beekeepers will no longer need to use
miticides, fungicides, and antibiotics to control them," says Foster. "We will
be able to improve the efficiency of bee breeding by using protein markers to
map desirable traits in bee families through generations."
    Michael Campbell, general manager of Campbell's Gold Honey Farm and
Meadery, keeps honeybees that pollinate valuable blueberry, cranberry, and
pumpkin crops in BC's Lower Mainland. "Recently we've been hit by mites that
are resistant to most miticides. As a result, we have a very poor over-winter
survival rate, which weakens the hive and makes it really hard to produce," he
    But Campbell remains optimistic about what Foster's new research will
allow them to accomplish. "What everyone is hoping for with this proteomic
approach is that we will know what to look for in a disease-resistant bee,
instead of guessing. Essentially, it will reduce our dependence on chemicals -
something most bee keepers disdain, but are obliged to employ in order to save
their hives."
    "Genome BC is very pleased to support such a critical and unique
project," says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. "Honey bees
provide immeasurable value both economically and in terms of our food supply.
We look forward to the results that this project will yield, within the next
two years."
    For van Westerndorp, those results won't be a moment too soon. "We are
running out of time. Our breeders can't develop bee stock fast enough to keep
up with the rate of disease."


    The total investment for this project is $2.8 million. The project is
also funded by UBC. It is one of a new suite of projects that is part of
Genome BC's Applied Genomics Innovation Program, designed to deliver results
within two to three years. More information about the program can be found at

    About Genome BC:

    Founded in 2000, Genome BC works collaboratively with government,
universities and industry as the catalyst for a genomics-driven life sciences
cluster with significant social and economic benefits for the Province and
Canada. The organization's research portfolio, over $380 million since
inception, includes 58 projects and technology platforms focused on areas of
strategic importance to British Columbia such as human health, forestry,
fisheries, bioenergy, mining, agriculture, ethics, and the environment.

    /NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: Photos accompanying this release are available on
    the CNW Photo Network and archived at
    Additional archived images are also available on the CNW Photo Archive
    website at Images are free to accredited
    members of the media/

For further information:

For further information: Rachael Froese Zamperini, Genome British
Columbia, (604) 612-6345,; Linda Bartz, Genome British
Columbia, (604) 787-3813,; Julia White, Genome British
Columbia, (604) 889-1503,

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