Too much inbreeding? Can diversifying honeybees’ gene pool increase survival?

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Since 2008, [Susan] Cobey [a honeybee breeder on Whidbey Island, Wash.] has done her share of bee abdomen rubbing as part of a research team from Washington State University traveling through Europe and Asia. They’ve collected sperm from native honeybees in Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Kazakhstan and the Republic of Georgia – countries where honeybees have favorable genetic traits, like resistance to the varroa mite. The deadly parasite has been cited as a major factor in bee deaths, along with genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure, according to a major report from the USDA and EPA in 2013.

Varroa mites are an invasive parasite from Asia that sucks hemolymph (bee blood) from adult and larval honeybees, weakening their immune systems and transmitting deadly pathogens, like bent wing virus.

According to the WSU research team, the root cause of the U.S. honeybees’ vulnerability to varroa is a dwindling gene pool that has left them short on genetic traits that help honeybees resist varroa elsewhere in the world.

“Honeybees aren’t native to America,” Cobey says. “We brought them here. But the U.S. closed its borders to live honeybee imports in 1922, and our honeybee population has been interbreeding ever since.”

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: No Offense, American Bees, But Your Sperm Isn’t Cutting It