With the nation’s beekeepers continuing to face problems with honeybee loss, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is creating a national bee gene bank to preserve the genetic diversity of bees. Of special interest are traits resistant to pests or disease and pollination efficiency. The new genebank will also be a resource for the ARS and others interested in researching better bee breeds.
The program is being shaped by entomologist Robert Danka. A honeybee breeding, genetic, and physiology researcher from the ARS unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Danka is working to preserve the Russian honey bee and Varroa Sensitive Hygiene lines first.
To help make the genebank a practical reality, ARS researchers are developing better long-term storage techniques for honey bees, including improving cryopreservation of bee sperm and embryos. Their work will include creating a way to reliably revive frozen embryos and grow them into reproductively viable adults after storage.
Another component needed to create the new genebank is a germplasm species committee, which will decide which species and subspecies to collect and preserve. ARS and Washington State University are working with beekeepers on the next steps for the committee.
Average loss of honey bees has increased to more than 30 percent per year in managed colonies as a result of pathogens, pests, parasites, and other pressures.