Scientists identify honey bee gene that could lead to disease-resistant colonies

It's well-known that bees play an important role around the globe, with their pollination process responsible for the survival of plants that humans rely on. With recent years seeing different bee populations in various regions threatened, it's becoming essential to understand and ensure their health. A recent study has found a specific group of genes in honeybees that could be used to improve their survivability.

A group of biologists from York University have identified the genes responsible for hygienic behavior in honeybees, which in turn could be used to enhance disease-resistant traits. The specific behavior includes the ability for some worker bees to root out sick or dead larvae and pupae from the colony, in turn reducing the spread of bacteria and harmful mites.

By identifying these genes and with further study of these traits, scientists believe it could help with selective breeding programs that result in honeybees with stronger resistance to disease. "This study opens the door to using genomics to breed healthier and disease-resistant colonies that have higher social immunity," said bee genomics expert Professor Amro Zayed. "Social immunity is a really important trait that beekeepers try to select in order to breed healthier colonies."

Rather than beekeepers trying to find colonies with strong hygienic behavior through field observations, breeding could be based solely on selecting the bees with genetic information that points towards the strongest disease-resistance. "We can now try breeding bees with these genetic mutations that predict hygienic behavior," Zayed added.