By Top Crop Manager
November 4, 2015 - Honey bees play a critical role in Canadian agriculture and nationally beekeepers have lost more than a quarter of their colonies each winter since 2006-07. Canadian honey bees produce 75 million pounds of honey each year and are responsible for pollinating numerous fruits and vegetable crops, nuts and oil seeds like canola.
The contribution of honey bees is tallied at 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. 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, those with Africanized genetics.
A new project, funded in part by Genome British Columbia and Genome Canada, builds on previous research and will develop genomics and proteomics tools that will provide markers to selectively breed 12 economically valuable traits for queens. This will enable beekeepers to quickly and cost-effectively breed healthy, disease-resistant, productive honey bee colonies that are better able to survive Canadian winters.
Led by Dr. Leonard Foster of the University of British Columbia, and co-led by Dr. Amro Zayed from York University, this project valued at $7.3 million, will help to protect the safety and sustainability of the beekeeping industry in Canada.
"These 'omic' tools will give our beekeepers bees which are adapted to Canadian conditions we will develop an accurate and cost-effective test for "killer" bees," says Dr. Foster, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. "As part of the implementation phase, we will work with beekeepers, other stakeholders and end users to ensure that these tools are implemented and accessible to beekeepers."
"This will provide measurable economic benefits to Canada, including to beekeepers and the agri-food industry and social benefits to the Canadian public," says Dr. Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. "Minimizing the need to rely on imported honey bee queens allows beekeepers to more efficiently manage healthy and productive honey bees, indirectly benefit our agro-economy and food security that depend on healthy bees, and benefit the Canadian public who are concerned about the health of bees.
"This research, led by Genome BC and co-led by Ontario Genomics, will serve as a road map for improving honey bee health across the globe and was funded through Genome Canada's 2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics and Feeding the Future. Other funding partners include Genome Alberta, Genome Quebec, the University of British Columbia, the BC Ministry of Agriculture, and the BC Honey Producers Association.
Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $710M in 254 research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, agri-food, energy and mining, environment, and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. Genome BC is supported by the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada and more than 300 international public and private co-funding partners. For more information, visit www.genomebc.ca