Scientists breeding better bees
by Kathy Keatley Garvey

October 9, 2008 10:27am
Comment Print Email

•  Might help repopulate colonies

•  It’s about bee-ing all they can be

UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey shows Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura her enhanced-line bee stock. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An enhanced-line honey bee stock developed by University of California, Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, that crosses her bee line “New World Carnolians” with “Old World” Carnolians from Germany, shows genetic promise in aiding the troubled bee industry, research reveals.

“I'm really pleased with the stock,” says Ms. Cobey, project leader of a honey bee stock improvement grant, funded by the California State Beekeepers’ Association and the California Almond Board. “The bees are very gentle, very hygienic and very productive, and hopefully will confer increased resistance to pests and disease.”

California Secretary of Agriculture A. G. Kawamura admired the stock during the State Apiary Board meeting Oct. 3 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on the UC Davis campus.

Holding a frame of bees, Mr. Kawamara correctly singled out the queen and praised the bees’ elegance and gentle temperament. In his youth, he reared honeybees for several years, tending the hives and selling the honey.

The gentleness of her bees did not escape the State Apiary Board, led by Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who also serves as president of the California State Beekeepers’ Association. They toured Ms. Cobey’s colonies without protective bee suits, as did Mr. Kawamura.

“Sue’s bees are polite,” says beekeeper Steve Godlin of Visalia, vice chair of the California State Apiary Board.

Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis says genetic research is sorely needed. “Although we spend a considerable amount of time trying to find short-term fixes to our honey bee disease and pest control problems, in the long run, the genetic solution of resistant stocks will be a better solution.”

“Our focus,” Ms. Cobey says, “is to identify, select, and enhance honey bee stocks that show increasing levels of resistant to pests and diseases.”

Ms. Cobey initially developed the New World Carnolians stock, a dark race of honeybees, in the early 1980s by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States to create a more pure strain. “Over time, it has proven very productive, winter hardy, well-tempered and more resistant to pests and disease,” she says. “For many years I have wanted to work with pure Carnica. Now I can.”

The scientists imported semen from Germany in 2006 and again this year, increasing the purity.

Ms. Cobey says genetic diversity, the raw tools for selection, is critical “in maintaining colony fitness and resisting pests and diseases.” The honeybee (Apis mellifera), initially brought from Europe to America in 1622 and to California in 1853, is declining in population. Mr. Mussen and Ms. Cobey attribute the decline to multiple factors such as diseases, pesticides, parasites, malnutrition, stress, climate change, and colony collapse disorder, in which bees mysteriously abandon their hives.

Pollination issues plaque the beekeeping industry, Ms. Cobey says. “Honey bees pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. Without bees, we wouldn’t have the fruits, vegetables and nuts we enjoy. Bees are critical to our food supply, especially in California, the bread basket of the country.”

Ms. Cobey collaborates with a team of scientists from Canada, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state. They include viral researcher Michelle Flenniken, the newly selected Häagen-Dazs post-doctoral researcher at UC Davis; reproductive specialists John Pollard and Claire Plante of GeneSafe Technologies, Ltd., Guelph, Canada; apiculturists Steve Sheppard of Washington State University, Pullman, and Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, St. Paul; and USDA scientists Jeff Pettis and Judy Chenn of Beltsville, Md.

The scientists obtained importation permits from USDA-APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) to import semen for a three-year period, 2008-2010, from three honeybee subspecies, Apis mellifera ligustica from Italy, A. m. carnica from Germany and A. m. caucasica from Turkey. To assure that the stock carries no diseases, the scientists established a quarantine area in an ecological preserve at WSU.

Ms. Cobey reared virgin queens from her New World Carnolian genetic line and inseminated these with German carnica semen imported in May. Due to importation delays (permits, inspections, quarantines and shipping) the virgin queens received two-week-old semen, but it was still viable, Ms. Cobey says. The queens were recently released from the WSU quarantine and are now at UC Davis for evaluation and propagation.

“Because semen and eggs can transmit viruses, imported stock must be isolated and quarantined. Semen does eliminate the risk of introducing parasites and pests, but viruses remain in question. We need to do this responsibly,” she says.

The German Carnica Association, a national program, traces its pedigrees back to the 1950s, Ms. Cobey says. More recently the program began selecting bees from isolated areas and exposing them to varroa mites without treatment. The stronger bees, the ones showing more resistance, are crossed and propagated to enhance this trait.

“Both stocks, the New World Carniolan and the German Carnica, are selected for hygienic behavior,” Ms. Cobey says. Hygienic behavior is the ability to recognize and remove diseased and varroa mite-infested brood from the hive, she explains. The bees also exhibit good grooming behavior -- they remove the parasitic mites from themselves and their nestmates. Initial test results show this trait is enhanced by crossing the two lines.

The UC Davis scientist will report on her work at the California State Beekeepers’ Association’s 119th annual convention, set Nov. 11-13 in Harrah’s, Lake Tahoe and at the Almond Board Convention in Modesto in early December.

The next step? She and her team will develop protocol for the safe importation of honeybee gametes, eggs and semen. “At present, there is no standard for honeybees, as is common for mammals,” she says. Ms. Cobey also offers beekeeper training in stock maintenance techniques.

Ms. Cobey, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in May 2007 from Ohio State University, has conducted research programs for three decades and is considered one of the world’s most renowned bee insemination authorities and instructors. She teaches courses on “The Art of Queen Rearing,” “Instrumental Insemination and Bee Breeding” and “Advanced Instruction in Instrumental Insemination,” drawing students from throughout the world.

(About the writer: Kathy Keatley Garvey is a communications specialist with the 
Department of Entomology
 at UC Davis.)

Comment Print Email

Comments on this story

Monica Jeffries 10/9/08 3:22 PM
Hey, I was just able to send a copy of your story to another person....Both of us have multiple "dots" after the @ sign. Ya got it fixed! Thank you! Monica

  • How to compete against Wal-Mart
  • Stockton mom turns a need into a business
  • The entrepreneur is in
  • Writing her own success story
  • Growing a small business the family way
  • The future pencils positive for this company
  • Niche marketing -- Italian style
  • Sipping success with niche marketing
  • Roasting a business out of his passion
  • Success as an independent consultant takes more than expertise
  • Avoiding the traps of employee law violations
  • Cracking the voice-over market
  • The American Dream realized, one package at a time
  • Female winemaker plunges into business
  • A new take on nurse education
  • Family sees moving business success
  • STEM thrives in pockets of education innovation
  • STEM goes solar in Stockton
  • Quick! There’s a robot in my pool
  • Retiring seniors can mean new business
  • Predawn biotech class trains next generation of science workers
  • Staying ahead of the competition the old fashioned way
  • Central Valley sees mismatch between high-tech jobs and job seekers
  • STEM starts young
  • Get ready – the future is here now
  • STEM Education: Growing the Valley's Future
  • They’re low power in wattage only, not ideas
  • Thinking success spawns Successful Thinkers
  • Small business success can mean finding the right niche
  • This franchise has real muscle behind it
  • Getting the scoop on small business success
  • Reshoring could rebuild America's manufacturing
  • Marketing that’s deliberately anchored to the past
  • Guitar artist plays his way to success
  • Paralysis no handicap for this entrepreneur
  • Boost sales with better communication
  • Making sandwiches sexy with a franchise
  • Going solar without spending a lot of money
  • They’re cute and cuddly. But are they a business?
  • Opportunity sails forth in the Delta
  • How bad etiquette on the job could kill your career
  • Growing their way out of hunger and poverty
  • Finding small business success from floor to ceiling
  • Why he’s public enemy #1 – for gophers
  • Running a home-based business successfully
  • Your boss needs a vacation – really
  • Couple makes transition from big corporations to small business
  • Carving a small business niche with a better idea
  • Calm is the goal of computer service and education franchisor
  • Developer squeezing new life into downtown with juice franchise
  • Signs of a recovering economy
  • How to keep a family business in the family
  • Ford dealership expands despite the Great Recession
  • Utility Telephone connects with customer service
  • Crowdfunding basics
  • The roar from crowdfunding is getting louder
  • California water wars’ bulldog
  • Water wars heat up in California
  • Helping businesses grow with a stronger STEM
  • How to retain your best employees
  • Small business runs success up the pole
  • Winery expands in Lodi
  • Lodi wineries tapping into growing Chinese market
  • Has the jobs picture brightened for the Valley for 2012?
  • The right education will be needed for 21st Century jobs
  • Where new jobs for San Joaquin will come from
  • Developing jobs for San Joaquin – Part 2
  • Developing jobs for San Joaquin
  • Fruits of his labor
  • Helping grow food security in the Valley of plenty
  • Doing a business turnaround despite the recession
  • Keeping customers loyal helps build her business
  • Expo exposes businesses to utility contracting ideas
  • Drink mix maker taps expertise to blend success
  • Entrepreneur finds success in a basket
  • Tips for catching resume fraud
  • There’s no checking out for this small business owner
  • Entrepreneurs take Valley sports play-by-play to the world
  • Starting a winery from scratch
  • Job hunting tips for the long-term unemployed
  • In the Central Valley, opera isn’t always the Grand Ole Opry
  • Branding ideas for small businesses
  • The ump’s not blind, but the players are
  • Finding success by tapping your brain in a new way - Part Two
  • Finding success by tapping your brain in a new way
  • Machines talking to machines is the future
  • Getting involved in the fight against AIDS
  • Franchised divorce says it’s a better way
  • Small business owner is brewing a success story
  • To beat the Great Recession, they’ve expanded
  • Taking a swing at strokes
  • Alert your taste buds – here comes Taste of San Joaquin
  • This franchise has real muscle behind it
  • Passion for his city drives him
  • Vicente Fox speaks out on U.S.-Mexico relations
  • Give your support staff recognition and reap top performance
  • Central Valley baker gets top honors for Royal Wedding pie
  • Asparagus Festival ends on high note
  • Stockton close to annual ‘tipping’ point
  • Framing small business success
  • Small business sees Affordable Care Act helping its bottom line
  • What you eat – and when – helps local restaurants
  • Coping with the aftermath of foreclosure
  • How to raise charming children
  • Central Valley grad school goes all-iPads
  • Solution to Delta water wars voiced
  • Making sure your personal bottom line is covered
  • Small California winemaker is all family
  • Small winery relies on family and innovation to compete
  • Central Valley company says it has a better way to store solar power
  • What’s wrong -- and right -- about local TV news
  • What planning means to small business success
  • Making the leap to small business
  • Out of work at middle age? Experts offer advice
  • Small business marketing, one article at a time
  • Congress on your corner as it’s supposed to be
  • Central Valley city’s heritage rediscovered
  • Central Valley school is building students’ foundations
  • Job tips from the expert
  • Long-term jobless worker re-invents himself
  • Building a new power plant means jobs for Central Valley
  • Sacramento reaches for the stars with new science center
  • Lodi Chamber opens China’s doors to small business
  • Writing books for fun – and sometimes profit
  • Black Friday shopping? How to protect yourself from scams
  • California winemakers can find added rewards overseas
  • Wine makers tap overseas markets from Lodi
  • A new revenue stream for Central Valley small businesses
  • Food bank seeks more business support
  • Tips for finding a job in the Great Recession
  • State may solve some of its prison woes with new Stockton facility
  • A solution to underwater mortgages
  • Should public libraries be managed by private firms?
  • Central Valley moves ahead with critical water project
  • Dee Dee Myers and the increasing impact of women on small business
  • How women are growing their small businesses
  • A market with a mission
  • Retailer 'paints' solutions to cash flow challenge
  • An answer for the unemployed – return to school
  • A ‘golden’ small business success story
  • Central Valley winegrapes blessed
  • Rubbing out the recession with a franchise
  • Surviving the recession as a small business
  • It’s personal, union says of Stockton fire cuts
  • How old it too old to start a new business?
  • They've found the recipe for small business success
  • MBA students help revive Central Valley farmers market
  • Classic wooden yachts anchor in Stockton for weekend
  • Foreclosures, short sales – a bank president comments
  • The strength of family helps this small business compete
  • Festival spears success in Central Valley
  • Social media helps keep family business prospering
  • Central Valley students get training in ‘green’ futures
  • Knives readied as Valley cities slash services
  • Central Valley jobless picture still grim
  • Delta residents told to ready for water war
  • Opportunities outlined for Central Valley small businesses
  • Rewiring your brain for success
  • Central Valley no longer ‘shell shocked’ by recession
  • To fix California’s government, look to London
  • Taking your sales pitch to the next level