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Sustaining and securing Canada’s honey bees using ‘omic tools

2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition – Genomics and Feeding the Future
Agriculture and Agri Food
Genome Centre(s):
Genome British Columbia, Ontario Genomics
Project Leader(s):
Leonard Foster (University of British Columbia), Amro Zayed (York University)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
Project Description: 

Honey bees play a critical role in Canadian agriculture. They produce 75 million  pounds of honey each year and are responsible for pollinating many fruits and  vegetable crops, nuts and oil seeds like canola. Through these activities, they  contribute 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 agri­food industries  and jeopardizing Canada’s food security. Canadian beekeepers have lost more than  a quarter of their colonies each winter since 2006­07 with certain provinces  experiencing significantly higher death in some years. 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 from  the US).

Dr. Leonard Foster of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Amro Zayed from  York University are leading a project to guard the safety and sustainability of the  beekeeping industry in Canada. The team will develop genomics and proteomics tools  that will provide markers to selectively breed 12 economically valuable traits. This will  enable beekeepers to quickly and cost­effectively breed healthy, disease­resistant,  productive bee colonies that are better able to survive harsh Canadian winters. While  this will lessen, it will not eliminate, the need to import bees from other regions, so the  team will also develop an accurate and cost­effective test to detect bees with  Africanized genetics (“killer” bees). The team will work with beekeepers and other  stakeholders and end users to ensure its tools are implemented and accessible to beekeepers by the end of  the project. This will provide measurable economic benefits to Canada, including to  beekeepers and the agri­food industry and social benefits to the Canadian public.  These benefits range in value from $8 million to $150 million per year.