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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Stoneville, Mississippi » Pollinator Health in Southern Crop Ecosystems Research » Research » Research Project #439088

Research Project: Development of a Mass-rearing Honey Bee System Under Controlled Conditions

Location: Pollinator Health in Southern Crop Ecosystems Research

Project Number: 6066-21000-001-08-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 15, 2020
End Date: Dec 31, 2022

Objective:
1. Development of methods to induce queen honey bees to lay large numbers of eggs in an indoor facility year-round. 2. Development of automated methods to rear large numbers of bee larvae per day in the lab.

Approach:
Honey bees pollinate one third of the United States food supply, notably crops such as nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables that give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition. Unfortunately, a dramatic reduction in bee colonies raises the risk that a catastrophic loss of these critical players in the U.S. food supply will occur in the foreseeable future, even as the need for pollination services continues to increase dramatically. We propose to develop a prototype of an advanced bio-manufacturing "bee factory" that uses new automated methods to mass-rear hundreds of thousands of bees under controlled indoor conditions. A key advantage of rearing bees in a controlled facility, without natural beeswax (a natural sink for environmental toxicants), is to be able to control exposure to the infamous “4 P’s”—nutrition, parasites, pathogens, and pesticides-- during vulnerable developmental stages. This will provide researchers with a platform to rigorously explore how these four factors interact to influence bee health. Recent research indicates that they interact, often in unpredictable ways, therefore it has become important to develop robust methods to assess their effects, both in isolation and in combination. The first part of the system requires development of methods to induce queen honey bees to lay large numbers of eggs in an indoor facility year-round. Most studies of bee health focus on honey bee workers, but the state of a colony also depends on the health and productivity of its queen. It is much more difficult to quantify the performance of queens relative to workers in the field, and our system will provide the first laboratory assay for queen performance. The second part of the system requires development of automated methods to rear large numbers of bee larvae per day in the lab. Considerable progress has been made on this front as well, based on a fully integrated robotic system named Illinois Biological Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing (iBioFAB), originally designed for automated and high throughput synthesis of genome editing tools and natural products. What is now needed is to complete the protocol and then adapt it to a lower-cost automation system, to enable it to be adopted in academic, government, and industry labs.