Sustaining and securing Canada’s honey bees using ‘omic tools (2014)


Bioproducts & Environment

Honey bees play a critical role in Canadian agriculture. They produce 75 million pounds of honey each year and are responsible for pollinating many fruits and vegetable crops, nuts and oil seeds like canola. Through these activities, they contribute more than $4.6 billion to the Canadian economy each year. Given this critical role, the high rate at which bee colonies are dying off is particularly alarming, posing a serious threat to the productivity of Canadian agri-­food industries and jeopardizing Canada’s food security. Canadian beekeepers have lost more than a quarter of their colonies each winter since 2006-­07 with certain provinces experiencing significantly higher death in some years. Replacing these losses by purchasing queen bees from offshore, as beekeepers have been doing, risks importing new diseases or invasive strains of honey bees (such as “killer” bees from  the US). Dr. Leonard Foster of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Amro Zayed from York University are leading a project to guard the safety and sustainability of the beekeeping industry in Canada. The team will develop genomics and proteomics tools that will provide markers to selectively breed 12 economically valuable traits. This will enable beekeepers to quickly and cost­effectively breed healthy, disease-­resistant, productive bee colonies that are better able to survive harsh Canadian winters. While this will lessen, it will not eliminate, the need to import bees from other regions, so the team will also develop an accurate and cost-effective test to detect bees with Africanized genetics (“killer” bees). The team will work with beekeepers and other stakeholders and end users to ensure its tools are implemented and accessible to beekeepers by the end of the project. This will provide measurable economic benefits to Canada, including to beekeepers and the agri-­food industry and social benefits to the Canadian public. These benefits range in value from $8 million to $150 million per year.