For reasons that aren't fully understood, bees are dying off. That could mean disaster for us, since we depend on bees to pollinate crops. The solution? To create disease- and pest-resistant super-bees. What could possibly go wrong?
A combination of viruses and insecticide-resistant mites have killed off 85% of all bees in the Middle East, 10% to 30% in Europe, and a more than 30% of American bees. Since we eat 83 billion dollars worth a year of pollinated crops — that's a huge majority of the world's food — the potential disappearance of the bees could be catastrophic for humanity.
Researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg have a solution, albeit one that has never ended well when tried in the movies. They're locating queen bees from hives that already show unusual resistance to disease, and then shipping them to other hives in Canada where they can be exposed to more mites and diseases. Whoever survives will get to breed, and the hope is that they are selecting for only the hardiest of bees.
The results are already impressive - while only 46% of European honeybees can survive the winter, 75% of these super-bees can withstand the cold conditions. However, even bees with total immunity to mites and viruses likely won't solve the current crisis, as it's also wrapped up in pesticide use, climate change, and other human factors. But these new bees might give us time to solve the problem... at least until we have to deal with the little problem of the rebelling super-bees.