Colony Collapse Disorder has everyone worried that Western honey bees will vanish, leaving our crops un-pollinated, our biscuits un-honeyed, and our ears bereft of the sound of buzzing. One man, however, thinks he might be able to stop the spread of insect diseases and parasitic mites that are probable causes of CCD. Francis Ratnieks is the sole professor of apiculture (beekeeping) in the United Kingdom, and he wants to breed a special strain of worker bees that can protect their colonies from destruction.Ratnieks has been conducting research on "hygienic" worker bees, who are genetically programmed to do the dirty work in a bee colony — in other words, to cull the larvae that aren't born hale and healthy, as he told The Observer:
"Hygienic bees have a strong tendency to clean things up, removing pupae and larvae if they are dead or dying," said Ratnieks, who has been studying bees, ants and wasps for 25 years. "What this hygiene can do is control certain types of disease, particularly diseases of the brood like chalkbrood, American foulbrood and varroa mite. "In the case of varroa mites, the female lays eggs on the pupa in its cell. These eggs turn into baby mites. Hygienic bees can detect this is taking place and they remove the wax cap to the cell and yank out the pupa. So they don't actually kill the female varroa mite, but they do prevent her breeding. It is not a complete control against varroa, but it can slow down the growth, therefore helping beekeepers keep on top of the disease."
Currently, only ten percent of hives even have hygienic bees; within any one of those hives, about ten percent of the worker bees are hygienic. Ratnieks has just received 100,000 pounds from private UK firm Rowse Honey for research on upping the percentage of hygienic bees. Rowse has also declared its support for the British Beekeepers Association, who want £8 million in emergency bee research funding from the government. And here I was thinking the only bee-related disaster was that no one is watching Pushing Daisies! Honeybee image from Wikimedia Commons. "Clean-up" bees could save endangered hives [The Observer]