An infestation of varroa mite can be detrimental to honey bees, in fact 40% of Canadian colonies are lost to them each year. In response to this, some bees exhibit what is known as ‘hygienic behavior’, detecting infections of pests or pathogens in their fellow bees, and removing them from the colony. It is thought that the hygienic bees can detect the smell of infections, thanks to a class of protein which is present on the bee’s antennae.
UBC’s Proteomics Core Facility offers a match making service for bees in May each year. The researchers study the proteins present on the bees’ antennae to determine if they are bees that exhibit the hygienic behavior. Because all worker bees are the offspring of one queen, the researchers can determine how hygienic the whole hive is by analyzing a few bees.
After detecting hygienic colonies of bees, the researchers are able to take male ‘drone’ bees to isolated colonies on Bowen Island, where they will mate with the queen and produce a new generation of hygienic bees. This new protein focused approach is much more effective than traditional behavior observation to determine the hygienic behavior of the colony, and will hopefully lead to healthier colonies of bees, more able to withstand pests and pathogens.
Source: UBC news
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