Irish experts seek to breed strong strain of honey bee

NUI Galway and the Native Irish Honey Bee Society are working to breed a bee strain tolerant to the Varroa Destructor parasite.

The parasite attaches to the body of the bee, and weakens it by sucking ‘bee blood’ or hemolymph. 

A severe infestation can kill an entire colony. Since 1998, it has devastated the native Irish Honey Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) according to NIHBS chairman Gerard Coyne, all feral bee colonies have died out.

With the parasite winning the battle against the bees, beekeepers have to import foreign bees, an unsatisfactory solution,

NIHBS, which represents beekeepers from the 32-counties, is lobbying the Department of Agriculture to stop the import of bees.

At NUIG, PhD student Keith Browne has been researching Ireland’s remaining pure forms of the honeybee, which is now considered extinct across most of Europe because of its hybridisation with imported sub-species.

The Dark Northern honeybee is adapted to colder, wetter weather and a shorter foraging season, allowing production of honey in northern Europe and efficient pollination of crops and wild flora.

Keith examines the evolution of this bee, which sometimes features resistance to or tolerance of parasitism by Varroa. 

He aims to determine what strains and traits offer greatest tolerance to Varroa, whilst retaining local adaptations.

This information will be used to guide a breeding programme for Varroa-resistant native Irish honeybees.


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