“So that when we go to breed these we can make a few more intelligent decisions about which are going to be able to survive the best in the conditions that we have here in Canada”.

Amro Zayed, a biology professor at York University, is leading a project that aims to tap genetics and develop a new breed of bees resistant to harsh winters and disease.

Now developed genomic tools at the University of British Columbia will enable breeding of made-for-Canada-honeybee that can resist pests and disease – something that will greatly accelerate selective breeding and slash years or decades off the process.

Other countries in the world including the United Kingdom and the USA are looking at the reasons behind a decline in population, but Canada is thinking beyond just the reason for a decline.

“The viruses passed on mites are in many cases more harmful than the mites themselves”, said Foster.

With an average yield of 75 million pounds of honey and the of essential crops, the contribution of bees is estimated to be CAN$4.6 billion annually to Canada’s economy.

The previous die-offs in the British Columbia even wiped out 70% to 80% of the honeybee colonies in a few regions. have brought in “queen bees” from other regions and this involves the risk of introducing “killer bees”; diseased bees or those with invasive strains.

But the bees we import to do that job aren’t necessarily the right bees to withstand local pathogens, not to mention Canadian winters.

“This kind of technology has been used in other areas of livestock”, he said.

A Toronto scientist is on a mission to save Canada’s honeybees.

“We want to develop a molecular diagnostic for the signatures of different traits such as disease resistance and honey production so beekeepers can use that to guide their selective breeding programs”,explained molecular biologist and co-study lead Leonard Foster. They have received a $7.3 million from Genome Canada.

“Dr. Foster’s work is a great example of putting research into practice and making a difference to B.C.’s agricultural community”, said Alan Winter, president and CEO of Genome BC. “Moving this research from laboratory to hive, with the help of Canada’s breeders, is a key goal”. “Minimizing the need to rely on imported honey bee queens allows beekeepers to more efficiently manage healthy and productive , indirectly benefit our agro-economy and food security that depend on healthy bees, and benefit the Canadian public who are concerned about the health of bees”.


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