Imported Genetics May Help Bees Adapt
Bees all over the world are still fighting colony collapse. Between pesticides, varroa mites, and dwindling food supplies, they’re dealing with a rapidly changing environment. But American scientists have a new idea that may help our bees adapt to these changes.
America stopped importing honeybees in the 1920s, which means the gene pool has become limited in the last century. Yes, honeybees are inbred. This wasn’t a huge problem until the varroa mite arrived stateside in the late 1980s, but then the mite ravaged the bee population. Since all the bees have the same weaknesses, entire hives can fall to a single disease or pest. Anti-mite pesticides are just about all most beekeepers have to protect their hives, and although they are useful for killing mites, they aren’t too healthy for the bees themselves. Surely there’s a better way.
In the interest of genetic diversity, scientists and beekeepers alike have begun crossbreeding domestic bees with their European and Asian counterparts. Researchers are inseminating American queen bees with genetic material collected from foreign drones, while individual beekeepers are adding foreign queens to their hives. The hope is that a wider gene pool will increase the rate of new traits, and possibly a natural resistance to varroa mites and other diseases. If nothing else, broader genetic variation should help to make sure at least some members of any afflicted colony survive.