BeeWhere Program Aims To Protect Hives

AgAlert By Christine Souza Issue Date: January 16, 2019

Beekeeper James Barnett brought honeybees from the state of Washington to San Joaquin County for the upcoming almond bloom. He would be among the beekeepers covered by a state beehive-registration program intended to improve honeybee health.  Photo/Christine Souza

Beekeeper James Barnett brought honeybees from the state of Washington to San Joaquin County for the upcoming almond bloom. He would be among the beekeepers covered by a state beehive-registration program intended to improve honeybee health.
Photo/Christine Souza

To safeguard honeybees and improve communication, commercial beekeepers who place colonies into crops for pollination must comply with a program that requires them to register beehive locations and notify county agricultural commissioners whenever the hives are moved.

The state bee-registration program, known as "BeeWhere," has been updated to include enforcement under Assembly Bill 2468. The program intends to prevent colony weakness due to pesticide exposure, pest and disease pressures and inadequate forage, and to prevent theft. New technology to operate the program has been developed by the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association, California Association of Pest Control Advisors, California State Beekeepers Association and the Almond Board of California.

The participating groups said registering hives in the state—modeled after an existing hive registration program called FieldWatch that operates in 20 other states—increases communication among beekeepers, pest control advisors and county agricultural commissioners to protect bee health.

"Beekeepers need to feed and water bees and take care of varroa mites, but what we in agriculture can act upon is when and how pesticides are applied around bees," CAPCA Chief Executive Officer Ruthann Anderson said. "Being able to communicate that information was vital to agriculture being able to say we are doing our due diligence to safeguard bee health. It all hinged on having beekeepers register, for everything else to fall into place."

Under BeeWhere, beekeepers must register the owner name, number of hives and location, and hives must be marked with identifying information. For registration and notification, beekeepers are encouraged to use an online system through the BeeWhere or FieldWatch websites.

Beekeeper Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who chairs the California State Beekeepers Association legislative committee, reminded beekeepers that the requirement to register beehives "has been on the books for years in California," adding, "We are trying to change people's behavior."

Park-Burris said she understands concerns beekeepers have related to the registration program, but said the system will help protect bees—something beekeepers have been advocating for many years.

"If bees are registered and an adjacent crop needs to be sprayed, applicators will write a different directory if they know that bees are in the area," Park-Burris said. "They want to know where the bees are."

Beekeeper James Barnett, who arrived in California from the state of Washington with a load of beehives in preparation for almond bloom, expressed concern regarding the updated hive registration program.

"In theory, it sounds good, but it is really tough to protect the bees because they will fly up to 8 miles," Barnett said.

Sandy Elles, CACASA executive director, said during this pilot year, beekeepers can register or report movement of bees from a tablet or personal computer, but eventually, "you should be able to pin your hives by smartphone."

The program also uses GIS mapping through CalAg Permits, which is how commissioners communicate with the Department of Pesticide Regulation, which will aid commissioners in tracking hive locations and be linked to crop management software such Agrian and CDMS, according to San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican.

"If the PCA writes a recommendation with a bee label on it, it can be communicated to the beekeeper, 'Hey, there's going to be an application taking place within 48 hours of one mile of your location,'" Pelican said.

Under BeeWhere, he said, commissioners now have authority to seek administrative civil penalties when a beekeeper does not register or does not provide notification of hive movement. Beekeepers that do not comply can face penalties ranging from $50 to $1,000, beginning in 2020.

As part of the larger effort to protect bees in California, Pelican said funding will go to counties through the California Department of Food and Agriculture Bee Safe program—meant to ensure safe movement of colonies, prevent theft and promote best management practices. This funding will purchase seed for forage crops and for mapping safe-harbor locations for bees, should beekeepers need a temporary place for them during an application.

Park-Burris said she typically registers her apiaries in early January in Shasta County, then transports them to almond orchards, where she registers the hives in that county. She said BeeWhere will bring "an extra layer for me: notification of when I'm leaving the almond county and when I'm returning to my home county."

For those with large numbers of apiaries, such as bee brokers who must register several thousand hives, Park-Burris said, the California State Beekeepers Association and Almond Board have invested in FieldWatch to make registration easier.

To learn more about BeeWhere, see beewherecalifornia.com.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=12450

Honey Bee Parasites Feed on Fatty Organs, Not Blood

Phys.org University of Maryland January 14, 2019

In this electron micrograph, a parasitic mite,  Varroa destructor , is wedged between the abdominal plates of a honey bee's exoskeleton. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

In this electron micrograph, a parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, is wedged between the abdominal plates of a honey bee's exoskeleton. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

Honey bee colonies around the world are at risk from a variety of threats, including pesticides, diseases, poor nutrition and habitat loss. Recent research suggests that one threat stands well above the others: a parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, which specializes in attacking honey bees.

For decades, researchers have assumed that varroa mites feed on blood, like many of their mite and tick cousins. But new University of Maryland-led research suggests that varroa mites instead have a voracious appetite for a honey bee organ called the fat body, which serves many of the same vital functions carried out by the human liver, while also storing food and contributing to bees' immune systems.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 14, 2019, could transform researchers' understanding of the primary threats to honey bees while pointing the way toward more effective mite treatments in the future.

"Bee researchers often refer to three Ps: parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition. Many studies have shown that varroa is the biggest issue. But when compromised by varroa, colonies are also more susceptible to the other two," said UMD alumnus Samuel Ramsey (Ph.D. '18, entomology), the lead author of the paper. "Now that we know that the fat body is varroa's target, this connection is now much more obvious. Losing fat body tissue impairs a bee's ability to detoxify pesticides and robs them of vital food stores. The fat body is absolutely essential to honey bee survival."

In addition to breaking down toxins and storing nutrients, honey bee fat bodies produce antioxidants and help to manage the immune system. The fatty organs also play an important role in the process of metamorphosis, regulating the timing and activity of key hormones. Fat bodies also produce the wax that covers parts of bees' exoskeletons, keeping water in and diseases out.

According to Ramsey, the assumption that varroa mites consume honey bee blood (more accurately called hemolymph in insects) has persisted since the first paper on the topic was published in the 1960s. Because this paper was written in Russian, Ramsey said, many researchers opted to cite the first English-language papers that cited the original study.

In this cross-section of a honey bee's abdomen, a parasitic varroa mite (orange) can be seen lodged between the bee's abdominal plates, where the mite feeds on honey bee fat body tissue. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

In this cross-section of a honey bee's abdomen, a parasitic varroa mite (orange) can be seen lodged between the bee's abdominal plates, where the mite feeds on honey bee fat body tissue. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

"The initial work was only sufficient to show the total volume of a meal consumed by a mite," Ramsey added. "It can be a lot easier to cite a recent summary instead of the original work. Had the first paper been read more widely, many folks might have questioned these assumptions sooner."

Ramsey noted several observations that led him to question whether varroa mites were feeding on something other than hemolymph. First, insect hemolymph is very low in nutrients. To grow and reproduce at the rates they do, varroa mites would need to consume far more hemolymph than they would be able to acquire from a single bee.

Second, varroa mites' excrement is very dry—contrary to what one would expect from an entirely liquid blood diet. Lastly, varroa mites' mouthparts appear to be adapted for digesting soft tissues with enzymes then consuming the resulting mush. By contrast, blood-feeding mites have very different mouthparts, specifically adapted for piercing membranes and sucking fluid.

The first and most straightforward experiment Ramsey and his collaborators performed was to observe where on the bees' bodies the varroa mites tended to attach themselves for feeding. If the mites grabbed on to random locations, Ramsey reasoned, that would suggest that they were in fact feeding on hemolymph, which is distributed evenly throughout the body. On the other hand, if they had a preferred site on the body, that could provide an important clue to their preferred meal.

"When they feed on immature bees, mites will eat anywhere. But in adult bees, we found a very strong preference for the underside of the bees' abdomen," Ramsey said. "More than 90 percent of mites we found on adults fed there. As it happens, fat body tissue is spread throughout the bodies of immature bees. As the bees mature, the tissue migrates to the underside of the abdomen. The connection was hard to ignore, but we needed more evidence."

Ramsey and his team then directly imaged the wound sites where varroa mites gnawed on the bees' abdomens. Using a technique called freeze fracturing, the researchers used liquid nitrogen to freeze the mites and their bee hosts, essentially taking a physical "snapshot" of the mites' feeding habits in action. Using powerful scanning electron microscopes to visualize the wound sites, Ramsey saw clear evidence that the mites were feeding on fat body tissue.

This microscopic image shows a varroa mite that has consumed honey bee fat body tissue tagged with Nile red, a fat-soluble fluorescent dye. Observing this red fluorescence in the mites' digestive systems helped researchers determine that varroa mites feed on honey bee fat body tissue--not blood, as previously assumed. Credit: UMD/USDA/ PNAS

This microscopic image shows a varroa mite that has consumed honey bee fat body tissue tagged with Nile red, a fat-soluble fluorescent dye. Observing this red fluorescence in the mites' digestive systems helped researchers determine that varroa mites feed on honey bee fat body tissue--not blood, as previously assumed. Credit: UMD/USDA/PNAS

"The images gave us an excellent view into the wound sites and what the mites' mouthparts were doing," Ramsey said. "We could see digested pieces of fat body cells. The mites were turning the bees into 'cream of honey bee soup.' An organism the size of a bee's face is climbing on and eating an organ. It's scary stuff. But we couldn't yet verify that blood wasn't also being consumed."

To further shore up their case, Ramsey and his colleagues fed bees with one of two fluorescent dyes: uranine, a water-soluble dye that glows yellow, and Nile red, a fat-soluble dye that glows red. If the mites were consuming hemolymph, Ramsey expected to see a bright yellow glow in the mites' bellies after feeding. If they were feeding on fat bodies, on the other hand, Ramsey predicted a telltale red glow.

"When we saw the first mite's gut, it was glowing bright red like the sun. This was proof positive that the fat body was being consumed," Ramsey said. "We've been talking about these mites like they're vampires, but they're not. They're more like werewolves. We've been trying to drive a stake through them, but turns out we needed a silver bullet."

To drive the proverbial final nail into the coffin of the idea that mites feed on hemolymph, Ramsey performed one last experiment. First, he painstakingly perfected the ability to raise varroa mites on an artificial dietary regimen—hardly an easy task for a parasite that prefers meals from a live host. Then, he fed them diets composed of hemolymph or fat body tissue, with a few mixtures of the two for good measure.

The results were striking: mites fed a diet of pure hemolymph starved, while those fed fat body tissue thrived and even produced eggs.

"These results have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the damage done to bees by mites," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a professor of entomology at UMD and a co-author of the study, who also served as Ramsey's advisor. "Fat bodies serve so many crucial functions for bees. It makes so much more sense now to see how the harm to individual bees plays out in the ways that we already know varroa does damage to honey bee colonies. Importantly, it also opens up so many new opportunities for more effective treatments and targeted approaches to control mites."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-honey-bee-parasites-fatty-blood.html#jCp

More information: Samuel D. Ramsey el al., "Varroa destructor feeds primarily on honey bee fat body tissue and not hemolymph," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1818371116 

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

Provided by: University of Maryland

Shedding New Light on Honey Bee Chromosomes

Bug Squad Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey Published on: December 3, 2018

Honey bee, Apis mellifera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee, Apis mellifera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee geneticists with long ties to UC Davis are putting together those missing pieces of the puzzle involving bee chromosomes.

Newly published research by a team of Germany-based honey bee geneticists, collaborating with Robert Eugene (“Rob”) Page Jr., of Arizona State University/University of California, Davis, offers new insights in the ability to modify and study the chromosomes of honey bees.

Martin Beye, a professor at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany and a former postdoctoral fellow in Page's lab at UC Davis, served as the lead author of the research, “Improving Genetic Transformation Rates in Honeybees,” published in Scientific Reports in the journal Nature.

The researchers accomplished the work in Beye's lab in Germany and the Page labs.

“The significance of this paper lies in the ability to modify the chromosomes of honey bees and study the effects of individual genes,” said Page, former professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University provost.

“The honey bee genome,” Page explained, “is composed of about 15,000 genes, each of which operates within a complex network of genes, doing its small, or large, share of work in building the bee, keeping its internal functions operating, or helping it function and behave in its environment. The ability to transform, change, genes, or add or delete genes from chromosomes of bees, has been exceptionally challenging and the effort spans decades. Martin tackles problems such as this. He takes on the most challenging genetic problems and solves them.”

Beye was the first to map the major sex-determining gene for honey bees, considered one of the most important papers ever published on honey bee genetics. He “then moved on and developed a way to implement gene editing, being able to alter single genes within the genome,” Page related. “Now he has developed a method to introduce new genetic material into the honey bee.”

In their abstract, the six-member team wrote that “Functional genetic studies in honeybees have been limited by transformation tools that lead to a high rate of transposon integration into the germline of the queens. A high transformation rate is required to reduce screening efforts because each treated queen needs to be maintained in a separate honeybee colony. Here, we report on further improvement of the transformation rate in honeybees by using a combination of different procedures.”

Specifically, the geneticists employed a hyperactive transposase protein (hyPBaseapis), tripling the amount of injected transposase mRNAs. They injected embryos into the first third (anterior part) of the embryo. These three improvements together doubled the transformation rate from 19 percent to 44 percent.

“We propose that the hyperactive transposase (hyPBaseapis) and the other steps used may also help to improve the transformation rates in other species in which screening and crossing procedures are laborious,” they wrote in their abstract.

For their research, the scientists chose feral Carniolan or carnica colonies. Carniolans, a darker bee, are a subspecies of the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera.

Beye joined the Page lab in 1999 as the recipient of a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship, an award given to the brightest young German Ph.Ds to provide an opportunity for them to work in the laboratories of U.S. recipients of the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize. Page, who won the Humboldt Prize in 1995, continues to focus his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior.

Following his postdoctoral fellowship, Beye returned to the Page labs at UC Davis and ASU as a visiting scientist. (link to https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/honeybee-gene-find-ends-150-year-search ) Beye spoke at UC Davis this spring as part of his Humboldt-funded mini sabbatical, the guest of Page and hosted by the Department of Entomology and Nematology. During his visit, he and UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson developed collaborative projects that they will begin in the spring of 2019. “This is exactly what the Alexander von Humboldt foundation wants – to build and extend interactive networks of researchers,” Page commented.

About Robert Page Jr.
Noted honey bee geneticist Robert Page Jr., author of The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution, published by Harvard University Press in 2013, recently received the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Page received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and served as a professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University (ASU) provost. He maintained a honey bee breeding program managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, for 24 years, from 1989 to 2015.

Now provost emeritus of ASU and Regents Professor since 2015, he continues his research, teaching and public service in both Arizona and California and has residences in both states. He plans to move to California in December.

Page focuses his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. One of his most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.

Resources:

UC Davis Behind the Groundbreaking Discovery of Honey Bee Sex Determination

About Robert E. Page Jr., Recipient of UC Davis Alumni Award

LA County Apiary Registration Was Due 1/1/19

This is a reminder that the LA County Apiary Registration was due on January 1, 2019.

Registration in California:

Anyone who keeps bees in California must register with their local County Agricultural Commissioner (CAC) on a yearly basis. At a nominal fee per beekeeper, regardless of the number of colonies or apiaries, it's well worth it. There are many reasons to make sure your bees are "on the books." Your County Agricultural Commissioner can be of assistance in:

  • dealing with neighbors and local regulatory agencies

  • notifications about local pesticide/herbicide applications

  • referrals for swarm captures (experienced beekeepers)

Los Angeles County:
Persons registering their apiary for 2019 must do so before January 1, 2019, or when your apiary first enters the county. A $10.00 fee will be required per owner at the time of registration.

2019 Apiary Registration Form (Print out, fill out, return with appropriate fee. Form is revised yearly.)
2019 Apiary Registration Notification (Contains valuable information.)

Cities within Los Angeles County:
There are over 80 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County. They have different ordinances, regulations, and rules. Make sure you check with the city where you will be keeping your hive(s) to insure you are in compliance.

There’s lots of information re Apiary Registration on our LACBA website:
https://www.losangelescountybeekeepers.com/apiary-registration/
Also see: https://acwm.lacounty.gov/

LACBA 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award Presented to Dave Williams

Congratulations to Dave Williams for receiving the
Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award!

Dave Williams, 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award

Dave Williams, 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award

Each year the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association presents the Golden Hive Tool Award to a member who shows curiosity and growth in working with bees or who has shown good service to our club.

At our January 7, 2019 LACBA Membership Meeting, the 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award was presented to LACBA member, Dave Williams.

Dave grew up in Pasadena and his high school time was spent at a wonderful college preparatory school which offered an independent studies program nurturing growing young adults in art, natural history, academics, athletics and independent study programs. One of his professors kept bees. Dave was stung, both literally and figuratively, and his honeybee beekeeping began.

In the 70’s he went to work for the LA Honey Company.

Dave began a career in the aerospace industry as a mechanic repairing airplane instruments. He was a VW mechanic, repairing communication equipment for the military.

Since the 90’s Dave has volunteered at the Bee Booth at the Los Angeles County Fair and has kept the bees alive in the indoor observation hive during the fair. Now Dave not only helps organize and manage the Bee Booth, but volunteers for a full week of managing not only the bee booth but the volunteers during his time at the booth.

In 1993 he set up and ran an Africanized honey bee booth, explaining and demystifying the Africanized honey bee.

Dave was instrumental in changing the regulations for keeping honey bees in the City of Pasadena.

Like many of our members, Dave said the heck with the 9 to 5 work day and set out to make a living keeping and removing bee swarms.

Dave and his wife, Mary, raised three children (one of them allergic to bees), and are now proud grandparents.

We’d like to thank Dave Williams for being a long time member of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, and for his dedication and service to the LACBA, to bees, beekeeping, and beekeepers.

Congratulations!

Finnish Scientists Develop Edible Insect Vaccine To Save Bees

DOGO News By Ariel Kim  January 10, 2019

European honey bee extracts nectar from an Aster flower (Credit: John Severns/ Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

European honey bee extracts nectar from an Aster flower (Credit: John Severns/ Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

In addition to providing us with delicious honey, the hardworking honey bees also pollinate about a third of food crops and almost 90 percent of wild grasses, like alfalfa, used to feed livestock. Hence, it is not surprising that their declining population, caused by climate change, habitat loss, and deadly microbial diseases, has researchers scrambling to find ways to protect the vulnerable insects, which are so crucial to our existence. Now, scientists from the University of Helsinki in Finland have found a way to help honey bees fight off infectious diseases with a sweet, edible vaccine!

Vaccinating non-humans is not a novel idea. Domesticated dogs and cats have been inoculatedagainst rabies, Lyme disease, and even the flu for many years. However, using them to protect insects has never been considered possible. That’s because vaccinations entail injecting a dead, or weakened, version of the virus into the body and allowing the immune system to create antibodies to fend off the disease. Since insects do not possess antibodies, they lack a "memory" for fighting infections and therefore do not benefit from traditional vaccinations.

Some of the foods that could be affected if honey bees disappear (Credit: Specialtyfood.com)

Some of the foods that could be affected if honey bees disappear (Credit: Specialtyfood.com)

Dalial Freitak, a biologist at the University of Helsinki, came up with the idea of an edible insect vaccine in 2014, after observing that when a moth was fed certain bacteria, it was able to pass on immunity to its offspring. Meanwhile, her colleague, Heli Salmela, had noticed that vitellogenin, a bee protein, appeared to have a similar effect to invasive bacteria in bees.

"So they could actually convey something by eating. I just didn't know what the mechanism was. At the time, as I started my post-doc work in Helsinki, I met with Heli Salmela, who was working on honeybees and a protein called vitellogenin. I heard her talk, and I was like: OK, I could make a bet that it is your protein that takes my signal from one generation to another. We started to collaborate, got funding from the Academy of Finland, and that was actually the beginning of PrimeBEE," Freitak explains.

How the American foulbrood bacteria invade and decimate hives (Credit: Current Opinion in Insect Science/Sciencedirect.com)

How the American foulbrood bacteria invade and decimate hives (Credit: Current Opinion in Insect Science/Sciencedirect.com)

The first PrimeBEE vaccine, which is still undergoing safety tests, aims to protect honeybees against American foulbrood, or AFB, an infectious disease which affects bee colonies worldwide. The harmful bacteria, introduced to the hive by nurse bees, feed on larvae and generate spores which spread and infect the entire hive. “It's a death sentence for a hive or colony to be diagnosed with the disease,” says Toni Burnham, president of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance in Washington.

The researchers, who unveiled their findings on October 18, 2018, say the vaccine teaches honeybees to identify harmful diseases, similar to how antibodies function in humans and animals. They explain, "When the queen bee eats something with pathogens in it, the pathogen signature molecules are bound by vitellogenin. Vitellogenin then carries these signature molecules into the queen's eggs, where they work as inducers for future immune responses." The researchers believe that once the first PrimeBEE vaccine is perfected, defense against other pathogens will be easy to create.

“We need to help honey bees, absolutely. Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale. Of course, the honey bees have many other problems as well: pesticides, habitat loss and so on, but diseases come hand in hand with these life-quality problems,” Freitak says. “If we can help honey bees to be healthier and if we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit.”

Resources: Smithsonianmag.com, NPR.org, mnn.com.

Finding An Elusive Mutation That Turns Altruism Into Selfish Behavior Among Honeybees

Phys.org    From Oxford University Press     January 8, 2019

A. m. capensis pseudoqueens  (black bees) among  A. m. scutellata  host workers (yellow bees). Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp

A. m. capensis pseudoqueens (black bees) among A. m. scutellata host workers (yellow bees). Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp

Among the social insects, bees have developed a strong and rich social network, where busy worker bees tend to the queen, who in turn, controls reproduction for the benefit of the hive.

But the South African Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis) can flout these rules. In a process of genetic trickery called thelytoky syndrome, worker bee females ignore the queen's orders and begin to reproduce on their own.

Scientists, in their own altruistic effort to protect the Cape honey bees from a recent devastating blight, transferred the Cape honey bees to a northeastern region—-only to see the Cape bees wreak havoc among colonies of the neighboring honey bee subspecies A. m. scutellata.

The A. capensis bees turned from altruistic workers to the guests who would not leave—-becoming social parasites that forage on their own into foreign colonies, reproducing an army of loyal workers, stealing all the honey, and eventually, dethroning the queen and taking over the host colony.

This type of behavior, despite making for bad neighbors, makes a lot of evolutionary sense. If the queen is lost, then the thelytoky syndrome at one point must have first kicked in as a life raft to save the colony. But if this is the case, why hasn't it become a more widespread phenomenon for other bee species?

Recently, scientists have combed through bee genomes to narrow down the genetics behind thelytoky, and linked these to candidate genes in the past few years—-but to date, the master genetic switch has not been found.

Now, for the first time, a group led by Denise Aumer and Eckart Stolle, working in the lab of Robin Moritz at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg's Institute of Biology, have finally found the root cause responsible for thelytoky. The findings were published in the advanced online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

"Uncovering the genetic architecture underlying thelytoky is a big step towards understanding this mode of reproduction, not only in the Cape honeybee, but also in other insect species in general (e.g. many invasive ants reproduce in a very similar fashion)," said Stolle. "After having worked on the topic for so many years with so much efforts by our colleagues and us to add pieces to the puzzle and also with the one or other dead end, it is a huge accomplishment for us to have come to this point."

By comparing the genomes of Cape honeybees which produce diploid female offspring (thelytoky) with those producing haploid male offspring (arrhenotoky, i.e. the expected mode of reproduction), they identified a candidate gene located on chromosome one, LOC409096, and proposed to call it Thelytoky (Th), as the major regulator of the selfish worker bee reproduction. Thelytoky encodes a receptor protein with a transmembrane helix and a signal peptide at the extracellular N-terminus, indicating that it is linked to a secretory pathway.

A. m. capensis pseudoqueen  (bee with white tag on thorax) eliciting retinue behavior in the surrounding  A. m. scutellata  host bees. Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp.

A. m. capensis pseudoqueen (bee with white tag on thorax) eliciting retinue behavior in the surrounding A. m. scutellata host bees. Credit: Picture taken by Mike Allsopp.

Specifically, a single mutational substitution in exon 7 of Thelytoky causes a change from the polar amino acid threonine to the non-polar amino acid isoleucine in the protein sequence, leading to substantial structural modifications and likely functional consequences. In addition, they confirmed their genetic data by showing that RNA levels of Thelytoky were elevated only in the selfish bees. They also performed DNA sequencing of another honey bee population and found the same exact mutation amongst the socially parasitic lineage of the Cape honey bee, but not among workers of other honey bee subspecies.

From the study of the genetics, they determined that Cape bee selfishness exhibits a dominant inheritance pattern, which means that only one mutation that needs to be passed down to perform the selfish genetic switch.

But the genetics are a bit more complicated because it turns out that the selfish gene still needs its altruistic partner (known as the social, or arrhenotoky form of the gene).

"The genetic control of the thelytoky syndrome is regulated by a more complex genetic mechanism than previously assumed," said Aumer. "The thelytoky allele (Th) is not recessive, i.e., needing two copies of the mutated gene, but rather a dominant allele. This dominant mutation expresses the phenotype (thelytoky) when one copy of the gene is the mutated variant, and the other copy is the one variant typical for the Cape honey bee."

"But at the same time, it appears that having two copies of the mutated variant is detrimental, perhaps even lethal, while having two copies of the "regular" Cape bee variant of this genes makes them reproduce normally. Any other combination of the mutated variant with another subspecies' variant would be non-matching alleles and would result in either non-functional or fertile normally reproducing (arrhenotokous) phenotypes. Therefore, the Cape bee typical Th variant seems to complement the mutated Th variant in a way that the offspring is fertile and expresses the unique set of phenotypes referred to as thelytoky syndrome."

Because only one gene can get passed on during reproduction, the genetics not only explain why breeders, for the past 150 years, have been mostly unsuccessful with producing thelytokous workers from mating the Cape bees with others, but also why the thelytoky behavior hasn't spread into other bee populations.

Genetically, it turns out you still need a little altruism to be truly selfish. When only one is passed on from interbreeding, the effect is lost without its partner gene.

"On a broader level, the identified genetic architecture of thelytoky in honey bees may serve as a model for other eusocial species with similar thelytokous reproduction, in particular for novel ant model systems, such as Platythyrea punctata and the clonal raider ant Ooceraea biroi," wrote the authors in the Molecular Biology and Evolution publication.

And just like the striking case of malaria and hemoglobin genes in humans, the study shows how just a single change in the DNA can have such a dramatic effect on a species, or in this case, changing the behavior of a bee from a helper to a mercenary.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-elusive-mutation-altruism-selfish-behavior.html#jCp
Journal reference: Molecular Biology and Evolution  
Provided by: Oxford University Press

Students Create Probiotic To Help Honeybees Fight Deadly Fungus

Phys.org By Andrew Lyle, University of Alberta January 10, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A team of University of Alberta students are hoping to market a probiotic they created to help honeybees ward off a fungal infection that has wiped out entire hives.

APIS, short for "antifungal porphyrin-based intervention system," uses genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to produce molecules called porphyrins that damage the spores of Nosema ceranae, the most widespread fungus infecting honeybees around the world.

Beekeepers can feed the product to their hives to help eliminate the fungus in the bees' digestive systems.

The students created the product as a project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition that took place in Boston last October, where they won first prize and a gold medal in the food and nutrition category.

A month after the competition, the team presented their research at the annual conference of the Alberta Beekeeping Commission.

"It allowed us to expose our work to commercial beekeepers and to bee researchers who might be able to pursue further development," said science student and team member Julia Heaton. "We've had interest in our project from some of these beekeepers, as well as from beekeepers who saw our research in the media.

"We have commercial beekeepers who are willing to conduct the necessary field trials to allow commercialization of our project. We've also looked into patenting our system with the help of TEC Edmonton."

Honeybees in cold climates are even more vulnerable to the fungus that infects their digestive systems—a problem of particular concern in Alberta, which produced more than 40 per cent of Canada's honey in 2016, worth more than $60 million.

The only existing treatment for Nosema ceranae is a fungicide called fumagillin, but it has been discontinued, making the problem even more critical.

"Bees have been a really hot topic lately, but although a lot of people know that bees are in trouble, not a lot of people understand why," said Heaton.

"We also wanted to raise awareness of a problem that deeply affects our province and our communities, but not many people know about," added Anna Kim, a team member studying biology and psychology.

Under the supervision of mentors, more than 300 university teams are tasked with using genetic components to create biological solutions to real-world problems.

"Very often in science, we first find 'solutions' and then we go looking for a problem," said U of A chemistry professor Robert Campbell, who mentored the student team for the competition in which more than 300 university teams are tasked with using genetic components to create biological solutions to real-world problems.

"It is so important to identify a problem first and then find the best solution, no matter where that leads you. This team identified the problem of Nosema infections in honeybees and was inspired to conceive of an original, feasible and practical solution."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-students-probiotic-honeybees-deadly-fungus.html#jCp

Provided by: University of Alberta 

Bee Mite Arrival in Hawaii Causes Pathogen Changes in Honeybee Predators

UC Riverside By Iqbal Pittalwala January 8, 2019

bee mite arrival in Hawaii.jpg

UC Riverside-led research, done on the Big Island, shows effects of mite introduction have cascaded through entire pathogen communities

The reddish-brown varroa mite, a parasite of honeybees and accidentally introduced in the Big Island of Hawaii in 2007-08, is about the size of a pinhead. Yet, its effects there are concerning to entomologists because the mite is found nearly everywhere honeybees are present.

A team led by entomologists at the University of California, Riverside, performed a study on the Big Island and found viruses associated with the mite have spilled over into the western yellowjacket, a honeybee predator and honey raider. The result is a hidden, yet remarkable, change in the genetic diversity of viruses associated with the larger pathogen community of the mite and wasp, with repercussions yet to be understood.

Erin Wilson Rankin examines a western yellowjacket. (I. Pittalwala/UC Riverside)

Erin Wilson Rankin examines a western yellowjacket. (I. Pittalwala/UC Riverside)

“Already, we are seeing that the arrival of the varroa mite in honeybee populations in Hawaii has favored a few virulent strains,” said Erin E. Wilson Rankin, an assistant professor of entomologyand lead investigator of the study published Jan. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “We do not know what the effects of these strains will be. What we know is that the effects of the varroa mite have cascaded through entire communities in Hawaii and probably around the world.”

In particular, the researchers saw a loss in the diversity of deformed wing virus, or DWV, variants, resulting in new strains whose impact is hard to predict. DWV, widespread in honeybee populations globally and made up of several variants, is thought to be partly responsible for global die-off of honeybee colonies. DWV infects bumblebees and has been detected in other insects. The yellowjacket wasps can acquire this virus directly or indirectly from honeybees.

The western honey bee.

The western honey bee.

By a stroke of luck, the researchers had the benefit of studying the honeybee and yellowjacket populations on the Big Island both before and after the varroa mite was introduced there. They saw more association of honeybees with pathogens after the appearance of the mite. Indeed, some pathogens were detected in the honeybee and wasp populations only after the mite was introduced to the island.

“This is one of the first descriptions of pathogens in the western yellowjacket,” Wilson Rankin said. “Evidently, pathogens known to be associated with varroa have spread into non-bee species, despite the mite itself being a bee specialist. We suspect the spread in yellowjackets is partly due to the wasp’s propensity to prey upon bees, which is one way the wasps may be exposed to the pathogens.”

Wilson Rankin noted the pathogens are often incorrectly called “bee pathogens” because they were first found in bees. The pathogens, however, are found in a wide variety of insects.

“We are seeing entirely different predators being affected,” she said. “The mite is not vectoring viruses to the wasps. The viral spread is happening through predation and through flowers. Predators may be passing on pathogens to other species. The yellowjacket, for example, preys on both honeybees and native bees, and may explain why both bee populations are showing the same viruses.”

Wilson Rankin explained wasps have been overlooked by researchers because these arthropods do not have “warm, fuzzy, and furry connotations.”

The western yellowjacket is a honey bee predator and honey-raider.

The western yellowjacket is a honey bee predator and honey-raider.

“They look scary,” she added. “People also get stung by them. People are more afraid of wasps than bees. But our work shows we can examine the health of the arthropod community by using species other than bees. We show for the first time that a predator is being affected by a parasite that does not even infect it.”

The researchers sampled 25-45 bees and wasps for one part of the study, and then about 100 individuals, analyzed in groups, for each of the species during the period before and after the mite was introduced to the Big Island. The researchers did not study native bees, focusing instead on honeybees and yellowjacket wasps, neither of which is native to Hawaii. 

“Our findings suggest that pathogen transmission from domesticated bees, such as honeybees, may be important even for non-bee insects like the wasps we studied,” said Kevin J. Loope, the research paper’s first author, who worked as a postdoctoral scholar in the Wilson Rankin lab during the study. “The impacts may be more subtle than previously observed: we found changes in the genetic variation of viruses found in the wasps, but not changes in the amount of virus. These findings suggest we should look more broadly and in greater detail to figure out how moving domesticated bees for agriculture may influence wild populations of insects.

Loope, now a research assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University, explained that finding overlap in the pathogens of yellowjacket wasps and domesticated bees also means that using pathogens to control undesirable wasp populations is risky.

“Any biological control efforts using pathogens should be carefully evaluated to prevent inadvertent harm to beneficial bees,” he said.

Kevin Loope excavates a yellowjacket nest in Volcano, Hawaii. (Jessica Purcell/UC Riverside)

Kevin Loope excavates a yellowjacket nest in Volcano, Hawaii. (Jessica Purcell/UC Riverside)

He added that the research team was surprised to find a dramatic difference in the viral genetic diversity between the wasp samples from the two periods — before and after the varroa mite was detected on the Big Island.

“We had predicted we would observe a decline in wasp viral diversity matching the decline described in honeybees in Hawaii, but we were still surprised to see this borne out in the data,” he said. “It’s not so often that you see what you’ve predicted in biology.”

Wilson Rankin and Loope were joined in the research by Philip J. Lester of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; and James W. Baty of Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, New Zealand. Genetic analyses on the bee and wasp samples were performed at UCR and in New Zealand.

Wilson Rankin was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Hellman Fellows Fund. Loope was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2019/01/08/bee-mite-arrival-hawaii-causes-pathogen-changes-honeybee-predators

LACBA Meeting: Monday, January 7, 2019

LACBA logo dk blue.jpg

Our first LACBA meeting of the new year will be held Monday, January 7, 2019.

Committee Meeting: 6:30pm / Membership Meeting: 7:00pm
Location: Mount Olive Lutheran Church (Shilling Hall)
3561 Foothill Blvd., La Crescenta, CA 91214

Meetings of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association are open to the public. All Are Welcome!

On the Agenda:

  • Learn about LACBA committees and how you can participate.

  • Beginning with the Committee Meeting, we will be discussing our upcoming Beekeeping Class 101: Class size, instructors, class fee, etc. BRING YOUR IDEAS!

  • An experienced beekeeper will share on how they got into beekeeping and what went on in their first two years of beekeeping. Specifically focusing on mistakes made, the trials, tribulations, problems.

  • Bill Lewis will present an informative tribute to photojournalist and bee photographer, Kodua Galieti, utilizing her extraordinary photographs to show what goes on inside a beehive and the various stages of honey bee development. Long time beekeepers and new-bees are sure to find the presentation fascinating.

  • We’re hoping all those who attended the CSBA Convention will share a short report on what you found most interesting, informative, entertaining - something you can share with the rest of us. Thank you!

  • Presentation of the 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award.

  • What Do You See Going On Inside and Outside Your Hive This Time Of Year???

  • What’s Blooming?

  • Q&A

  • Next month Wildflower Meadows to speak.

  • RAFFLE!!!! Bring something for the Raffle!

    Hope to see you at the meeting!

THE BOARD WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU
Discussion about changes for 2019 Beekeeping 101 Classes.  Your board of directors would like your suggestions as to changes to the 2019 Beekeeping 101 classes.  Come to the Committee Meeting @ 6:30pm on Monday January 7, 2018 to give your opinion.  This is your chance to participate in the discussion about the 2019 Beekeeping 101 classes.

New Laboratory System Allows Researchers To Probe The Secret Lives Of Queen Bees

Phys.org University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign December 3, 2018

Researchers at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois used specially developed 3D-printed plastic honey combs that mimic the hive environment, in order to monitor queen egg-laying behaviors. Credit: Bee Research Facility, University of Illinois

Researchers at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois used specially developed 3D-printed plastic honey combs that mimic the hive environment, in order to monitor queen egg-laying behaviors. Credit: Bee Research Facility, University of Illinois

More than a decade after the identification of colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon marked by widespread loss of honey bee colonies, scientists are still working to untangle the ecologically complex problem of how to mitigate ongoing losses of honey bees and other pollinating species. One much-needed aid in this effort is more efficient ways to track specific impacts on bee health. To address this need, a group of Illinois researchers has established a laboratory-based method for tracking the fertility of honey bee queens.

Co-first authors Julia Fine and Hagai Shpigler, both postdoctoral researchers at the University of Illinois, worked with others in the laboratory of Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology Director and Swanlund Professor of Entomology Gene Robinson to establish a laboratory set-up that would mimic the key aspects of the hive environment and allow detection of egg-laying by honey bee queens living with small groups of worker bees. The resulting system, described in PLOS ONE, allowed them to explore the relationship between worker nutrition and queen fertility.

"The idea that honey bee nutrition influences colony level metrics of reproduction has been demonstrated before, but here, we examined an old story using new tools," Fine said. "We were able to get a clearer picture of how nutrition can affect the relationship between honey bee workers and queens and how this can impact the queen's egg production."

Populations of many pollinator species have been declining in the US and worldwide. Studies of factors influencing wild and managed honey bee hives have identified four main factors influencing health: parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and poor nutrition. These factors can influence one another. For example, parasites may spread pathogens, much as fleas do on people, while poor nutrition might increase the likelihood of foraging on contaminated food sources.

Egg production is a vital aspect of honey bee colony function. Queens lay eggs that hatch into the thousands of worker bees that keep the colony running, as well as males and young queens to allow the colony to propagate. But in the dark, bustling interior of a standard hive, it is challenging to monitor egg laying or to evaluate the impacts of environmental factors.

"Egg laying occurs in the darkness of a hive occupied by thousands of workers and is therefore hard to track," Shpigler said. "Queen egg laying was never studied outside of the colony; the biggest challenge was to give the queens the right conditions for continuous egg laying outside of natural conditions."

To move queen productivity successfully into the lab, the researchers focused on the essentials of their natural environment. They developed a 3-D-printed plastic honey comb that they refined to mimic what a queen would experience in the hive, which ensured that the cage environment could be carefully controlled and kept pesticide free. They also provided each queen with a small group of worker bees to feed and support the queen; this element became the inspiration for their first experiments with the new system.

"Honey bee queens only ingest food in the form of glandular secretions provided to them by their worker caretakers, and queens are not known to lay eggs without the support of their worker bees," Fine said. "The more we worked in this system, the more it became apparent that the easiest way to influence the queen was to first influence the worker bees that care for her. Once we identified this strategy, designing effective experiments became easier."

Fine, Shpigler, and their coauthors provided each group of caged bees with honey, water, and sucrose solution, but varied the source of fat and protein: some bees were fed with a paste of honey and either a low or a high amount of floral pollen, while others were fed with bee bread, a mixture of pollen, honey, and secretions produced by worker honey bees that preserve and ferment the pollen. The researchers monitored how queen egg laying behavior was influenced by the type of diet fed to the workers caring for her.

They found that when a group of workers was fed pollen paste, the queen they attended was likely to increase her egg laying more slowly in the laboratory environment than a queen attended by bee bread-fed workers. This difference was most noticeable when the lower-percentage pollen paste was used, but persisted even in bees fed the richer pollen paste.

The results affirmed the importance of nutrition to queen productivity, as well as demonstrating the potential utility of the laboratory set-up for investigating other factors affecting queen behavior and health.

"The effect of the nutrition . . . was our first successful use of the system, giving us hope for more success in the future," Shpigler said. "The results show very nicely how the honey bee colony functions as one body, with shared digestive and reproductive systems. The workers are the ones that eat the food and the effect is on the queen egg laying—the superorganism in action!"

"It's been exciting to see the kind of quantitative data that we can generate with this system using fewer resources relative to studies that use full size honey bee colonies," Fine said. "Eventually, we hope that this system can be adapted as a risk assessment tool to identify other factors that positively and negatively influence honey bee reproduction . . . there is an immediate need for a laboratory system that can be used to quantitatively assess risks to honey bee queen health and reproduction."

More information: Julia D. Fine et al, Quantifying the effects of pollen nutrition on honey bee queen egg laying with a new laboratory system, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203444

Journal reference: PLoS ONE

Provided by: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

https://phys.org/news/2018-12-laboratory-probe-secret-queen-bees.html#jCp

Honeybees May Hold The Secret To Stem Cell Youth

Medical News Today By Maria Cohut December 6, 2018

New research uncovers some of the 'magical' properties of royal jelly.

New research uncovers some of the 'magical' properties of royal jelly.

Royal jelly is a gelatinous substance that honeybees produce to feed their young. This intriguing food also holds the mysterious power of helping some honeybee larvae grow into new queen bees. Some people believe that royal jelly can unlock the fountain of youth. Is there any truth in that?

In the complex hierarchy of the beehive, the queen bee is the sacred matriarch who keeps the colony alive and organized.

The queen bee lays the eggs from which the larvae will hatch. These larvae later become either the new workers, which are the female bees who do all the work around the hive, or the drones, the male bees whose job it is to mate with the queen.

When a queen bee dies, the colony has to ensure that a new one takes her place.

To produce a new queen bee, worker bees select the most suitable larvae and feed them royal jelly. This will allow one of them to develop into the healthy, strong, and extremely fertile adult female who then becomes the new queen bee.

Royal jelly comprises water, proteins, and sugars, but how exactly it stimulates some larvae to grow into queens rather than worker bees has remained unclear.

Still, due to its seemingly "magical" properties, many people hail this substance as a miraculous ingredient that can boost health and help maintain youth.

In a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, a team of researchers has decided to investigate how and why royal jelly might be beneficial. They have looked at its effect on one of the most promising targets of clinical research, namely mammalian stem cells. These undifferentiated cells are capable of turning into any specialized cells, serving any function.

"In folklore, royal jelly is kind of like a super-medicine, particularly in Asia and Europe, but the DNA sequence of royalactin, the active component in the jelly, is unique to honeybees. Now, we've identified a structurally similar mammalian protein that can maintain stem cell pluripotency," explains senior author Dr. Kevin Wang.

The researchers tell the story of their current findings in the journal Nature Communications.

The 'magic' ingredient of royal jelly

"I've always been interested in the control of cell size, and the honeybee is a fantastic model to study this," says Dr. Wang. "These larvae all start out the same on day zero, but end up with dramatic and lasting differences in size. How does this happen?"

In this study, Dr. Wang and his team honed in on a protein called royalactin that is present in royal jelly. They believed that this protein may be, in great measure, responsible for stimulating the impressive cell growth in the larvae that the worker bees select to become queen bees.

In order to study its effects, the researchers decided to apply royalactin to embryonic stem cells, or undifferentiated cells, that they had collected from mice.

"For royal jelly to have an effect on queen development, it has to work on early progenitor cells in the bee larvae," Dr. Wang notes. "So we decided to see what effect it had, if any, on embryonic stem cells," he adds.

Embryonic stem cells are the perfect candidate in clinical research as they have the potential to turn into any specialized cell, playing any role. This potential is called "pluripotency."

Replacing aging, damaged specialized cells with fresh ones that have grown from stem cells has, in theory, the potential to help address any number of diseases. As a result, it is important for researchers to have access to healthy, "youthful" stem cells that they can keep in the labs in their undifferentiated forms until they need to use them.

A protein named 'Regina'

However, Dr. Wang explains, stem cells soon differentiate under lab conditions and become unusable. To keep their pluripotency intact, researchers have had to devise complex inhibitors.

When they added royalactin to embryonic stem cells, the investigators found that it maintained their pluripotency for longer — specifically, for 20 generations — without the need to administer the usual inhibitors.

"This was unexpected. Normally, these embryonic stem cells are grown in the presence of an inhibitor called leukemia inhibitor factor that stops them from differentiating inappropriately in culture, but we found that royalactin blocked differentiation even in the absence of [leukemia inhibitor factor]," Dr. Wang notes.

Still, the researchers did not understand this response. They felt that the mammalian stem cells should not have responded so well to royalactin since mammals do not produce that protein.

They then wondered if they could find a mammalian-produced protein that might match the shape of royalactin rather than its sequence and that may also serve the purpose of sustaining cell "stemness."

Sure enough, they identified a mammalian protein called NHLRC3, which, they thought, may have a structure close to that of royalactin and might serve a similar purpose. NHLRC3, explains Dr. Wang, occurs in all early animal embryos, including those of humans.

When the researchers applied this protein to mouse embryonic stem cells, they found that, like royalactin, it helped maintain their pluripotency. For this reason, the team decided to rename this protein "Regina," which means "queen" in Latin.

"It's fascinating. Our experiments imply Regina is an important molecule governing pluripotency and the production of progenitor cells that give rise to the tissues of the embryo. We've connected something mythical to something real." ~Dr. Kevin Wang

In the future, the researchers plan to find out whether Regina can boost wound healing and cell regeneration. They also want to look into more ways of keeping stem cells "youthful" in the laboratory.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323904.php?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Medical_News_Today_TrendMD_1

Propolis Power-Up: How Beekeepers Can Encourage Resin Deposits For Better Hive Health

Entomology Today By Andrew Porterfield

Propolis is a pliable, resinous mixture that honey bees (Apis mellifera) create by mixing a variety of plant resins, saliva, and beeswax and which they apply to interior surfaces of their hives, namely at points of comb attachment and to seal up cracks and crevices on the interior side of hive walls. Greater propolis production is connected with improved hive health, and a new study finds a few simple methods beekeepers can employ to stimulate increased propolis production. (Photo credit: Flickr/Ontario Beekeepers’ Association Tech Transfer Program, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Propolis is a pliable, resinous mixture that honey bees (Apis mellifera) create by mixing a variety of plant resins, saliva, and beeswax and which they apply to interior surfaces of their hives, namely at points of comb attachment and to seal up cracks and crevices on the interior side of hive walls. Greater propolis production is connected with improved hive health, and a new study finds a few simple methods beekeepers can employ to stimulate increased propolis production. (Photo credit: Flickr/Ontario Beekeepers’ Association Tech Transfer Program, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Propolis, a mass of plant resins built by honey bees inside their hives, has drawn attention in recent years partly because of its alleged (but as yet unproven) health benefits to humans. But, perhaps more important, it also shows health benefits to bees themselves. Created from resins and other oils and fats collected from trees, propolis helps preserve the structural integrity of a bee hive and protects against wood decay, fungus, and water.

Propolis has also been connected to benefiting honey bee (Apis mellifera) immune systems, saving energy that would otherwise have been used to protect against nest-invading beetles like Aethina tumidaor parasites like the Varroa destructor mite, Nosema fungus, and viruses. In the past, some beekeepers have tried to keep their hives “clean” of propolis, believing it impeded with honey-making activities. Today, though, scientists and beekeepers have begun looking at encouraging propolis production to help sustain healthy hives.

In a new study published today in the Journal of Economic Entomology, three researches—Cynthia Hodges, master beekeeper and co-owner of Hodges Honey Apiaries in Dunwoody, Georgia; Keith Delaplane, Ph.D., entomology professor at the University of Georgia; and Berry Brosi, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental science at Emory University in Atlanta—looked at four different ways to enhance propolis growth in bee hives. The team found that three surface modifications—plastic trap material on the hive wall interior, parallel saw cuts on hive wall interior, and brush-roughened wall interiors—were all equally capable of resulting in increased propolis production, compared to a fourth method, a control, in which the hive wall interiors we left unmodified.

The researchers divided 20 colonies into five apiary sites and randomly applied one of the three texture treatments or control to each colony. Bees in the colonies foraged for propolis resins from plants common to the Appalachian Piedmont in the southeastern U.S., including conifers, oaks, pecan, red maple, yellow poplar, and urban ornamental plants. The researchers then measured extensiveness and depth of propolis deposits in the hives over time.

Researchers in Georgia tested three different ways to texturize the interiors of honey bee (Apis mellifera) hive walls to stimulate production of propolis: at left, plastic propolis traps are attached to the walls; at center, walls are modified with five parallel saw kerfs, 7 centimeters apart, cut 3 millimeters deep into the surface; and, at right, walls are roughened with a mechanized wire brush. All three treatments stimulated increased propolis production over smooth, unmodified walls. (Left image originally published in Borba et al 2015, Journal of Experimental Biology; center and right images originally published in Hodges et al 2018, Journal of Economic Entomology)

Researchers in Georgia tested three different ways to texturize the interiors of honey bee (Apis mellifera) hive walls to stimulate production of propolis: at left, plastic propolis traps are attached to the walls; at center, walls are modified with five parallel saw kerfs, 7 centimeters apart, cut 3 millimeters deep into the surface; and, at right, walls are roughened with a mechanized wire brush. All three treatments stimulated increased propolis production over smooth, unmodified walls. (Left image originally published in Borba et al 2015, Journal of Experimental Biology; center and right images originally published in Hodges et al 2018, Journal of Economic Entomology)

Their results showed that any hive interior treatment significantly increased propolis deposition compared to a non-treatment control. Sampling over time showed propolis hoarding and accumulation, as well. None of the texture treatments showed significantly different results from each other.

While all treatments resulted in more propolis deposition, the researchers point to the roughened interior of the hive walls as the best method for encouraging deposition. In fact, leaving lumber naturally rough, with no planning or sanding, would provide a simple and effective surface for boosting propolis, they write.

“We come down in favor of roughened or un-planed wood,” says Delaplane, “because, unlike the plastic trap, it will not subtract from the bee space engineered around the walls and combs. What you see in our pictures is the work of a steel brush. Naturally un-planed wood would be much rougher and, I would expect, even better at stimulating propolis deposition.”

Other researchers have shown that propolis development has a strong effect on the members of the bee hive. These other investigations have shown that interior walls painted with propolis extract resulted in colonies with lower bacterial loads and with worker bees that expressed lower levels of immune gene expression. Sustained activation of immune genes comes at an energy cost, which can result in a reduction in brood numbers and pose a threat to overall colony health. Further studies have shown that reduced immune activation (and therefore less energy spent on fighting infection) comes from reduced pathogen loads in high-propolis colonies and not from immune suppression by propolis.

“I don’t know of any beekeepers deliberately encouraging their bees to collect propolis,” says Delaplane, adding that many keepers in the past have tried to clear propolis from their hives. “But today we know that this bias is misdirected. I believe encouraging propolis deposition is one more thing beekeepers can do to partner with biology instead of ignore it.”

https://entomologytoday.org/2018/11/28/propolis-how-beekeepers-encourage-better-hive-health/