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The biggest challenge in breeding honey bees? Keeping the right balance of desirable traits in colonies, from mite biting to pollinating behaviors, requires a complex process. Krispn Given discusses some of the subtleties and important considerations in apiculture.

Listen and learn

  • Why the varroa mite is like a dirty hypodermic needle invading honey bee colonies, jeopardizing bee health and productivity;
  • How these mites are obligate parasites, even breeding within the beehive cells,
  • What traits are especially important for a beekeeper to consider, from mite biting to grooming and honey production, and
  • Why breeding research will transition to marker-assisted selection rather than phenotypic traits.

Krispn Given is an apiculture specialist at Purdue University and focuses on selecting for behavioral traits to reduce the impact of varroa mites and the bee diseases they cause. He gives listeners an appreciation for the complexities of beekeeping while keeping the fascinating aspects of the activity front and center. For example, researchers like Given are actually able to select for mite-biting behavior, which is a recessive, heritable trait.

He explains how they examine mites for evidence of chewing marks, selecting and breeding bees that were able to effectively chew the mites enough to kill them. But there’s a catch: they can’t forget about other desirable traits like honey production and effective pollinating. He talks about the efforts to maintain a healthy mix for a balanced colony.

He also gives listeners a glimpse into the future of his research, such as crossing some of these mite-biting bees to make them available for the commercial industry. In addition, they plan on incorporating MAS, or marker-assisted selection. In the past, they’ve focused on phenotypic traits but technology has enabled them to start genotyping their colonies.

Of course, these behaviors take place at epigenetic and genetic levels and Given addresses this additional balance, explaining how they tease out various traits through the the years. Listen in for some terrific honey bee research stories.

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