Genetic Selection for Better Bees

As beekeepers who enjoy constantly improving and learning, it’s difficult to sift through the onslaught of information that is found every day and apply it to our apiary. We focus on sustainable and responsible practices in beekeeping. In a world where antibiotics are always the answer, there have been great strides in breeding programs working to promote better bees through selected genetics.

Recently, we watched the documentary “Resistance” and it really got us thinking about our bees and the nature of the agricultural community. The theory behind the movie, that is backed up by scientific evidence and case studies, is that humans have compromised our ability to fight off bacteria and viruses by throwing chemicals at them, promoting resistance to these chemicals and antibiotics.

We see this in the beekeeping industry as well – as new treatments are introduced, varroa mites and other pests become increasingly more difficult to kill and control by building resistance to the treatments. Treatment free beekeepers and naturalists believe that the only long-term way to tackle this problem is to build natural, autoimmune resistance within the bees through natural selection promoting a “survival of the fittest” mentality. In the commercial beekeeping world, use of harsh chemicals is seen as insurance against these hive pests such as Varroa Destructor, but the question of “who wins in the end?” is still heavy on our minds.

When beekeepers select bees for genetics, they’re looking for behaviors, varroa and mite resistant behaviors, survival rates, honey production and temperament. Every beekeeper has different preferences for ideal traits that are most important to them.

For the record, I believe in vaccines and a better life through chemistry, but only if it truly leads to a better life, and in the world of fighting pests with chemicals, there’s no clear answer. Currently, the Texas Apiary Inspection Service (TAIS) encourages chemical treatment of Varroa Destructor while academics continue to explore selecting for genetically resistant traits.

 

 

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