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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Baton Rouge, Louisiana » Honey Bee Lab » Research » Research Project #438911

Research Project: Breeding for Improved Varroa-resistant Bee Stock to Support Honey Bee Health, Crop Pollination, and Honey Production

Location: Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research

Project Number: 6050-21000-016-009-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Aug 30, 2020
End Date: Sep 30, 2021

Goal 1: Breed a stock of honey bees that reliably requires little or no treatment against Varroa mites while consistently being at least as productive in commercial beekeeping operations as bees commonly used now. Objectives: 1a. Shift to closed population breeding (from line breeding) to secure the current mite-resistant breeding lines while allowing more emphasis to be placed on field performance of the bees. 1b. Secure representative samples of the evolving breeding population for genetic and genomic characterization. Goal 2: Produce queens of the stock from a commercial mating site, and deliver them to the beekeeping industry for evaluation at commercial scale by end users. Objective 2a: Coordinate logistics and manage data derived from initial distribution of queens to commercial beekeeping operations for evaluation in the marketplace. Objective 2b: Cyropreserve germplasm from high-performing breeder colonies and field colonies in the Bee Gene Bank managed by the USDA National Animal Germplasm Program.

Selection for mite resistance has been the primary focus in developing the "Hilo Bee" population since 2015. Mite resistance is now well established. Shifting to a simpler closed population breeding approach will permit more effort to select colonies for superior performance while allowing future integration of genetic approaches (e.g. genomic selection). For Objective 1a, selection will focus on colony survival, bee population and honey production. Performance metrics will be measured in colonies within the Hilo breeding program, in commercial honey production apiaries in Hawaii near the breeding program, and in field trials that are occurring on the U.S. mainland. USDA in Baton Rouge recently completed two characterizations of the honey bee genome that involved Hilo bees. One study compared diversity at the critical sex-determination (csd) locus between Hilo bees and their major progenitor population; the other study evaluated diversity across the whole genome of eight representative commercial bee stocks. Outcomes from these studies are expected to inform future bee breeding strategies, including breeding in the Hilo program. Objective 1b supports continued evaluation of Hilo genetics and genomics in subsequent research. Early distribution of Hilo queens has begun. This offers the breeding program an opportunity to collect both rigorous data in field trials, genetic retention of resistance, and the perceptions of beekeepers who use the bees in their commercial operations. The logistics of handling and tracking large numbers queens has been an unanticipated challenge. Objective 2a seeks to coordinate queen shipments, plus manage data and feedback from beekeepers who are evaluating Hilo Bees. The USDA National Animal Germplasm Program can be used to safeguard valuable Hilo Bee breeding material. To initiate Objective 2b, germplasm (semen) from outstanding colonies held by USDA in Baton Rouge will be collected and sent to the USDA-ARS Insect Genetics and Biochemistry Research Unit in Fargo, ND. The semen will be processed for cryopreservation, frozen and shipped to the National Animal Germplasm Program facility in Fort Collins, CO, for long-term storage.