WSU planning honey bee sperm bank

A honey bee with a parasite on its back. Washington State University entomologists announced Friday, June 7, 2013, that they are creating a honey bee sperm bank using liquid nitrogen to help address their dwindling populations. (WSU)
A honey bee with a parasite on its back. Washington State University entomologists announced Friday, June 7, 2013, that they are creating a honey bee sperm bank using liquid nitrogen to help address their dwindling populations. (WSU)

(KOIN) – Researchers at Washington State University are using liquid nitrogen to create a frozen sperm bank from honey bee colonies, designed to combat the drastic population collapse in the United States that has occurred over the past several decades.

The purpose of the bank is to address the variety of factors that have prompted the dwindling population, termed the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Those include invasive mites, pesticides and the practice of monoculture, WSU entomology professor Dr. Steve Sheppard said in a news release Friday. Individually, those factors can weaken a hive. However, combined, they are believed to be responsible for the CCD.

As part of producing the bank, researchers are genetically crossbreeding bees from both U.S. and European colonies in an effort to create more resilient subspecies, Sheppard said. In 2008, the USDA gave the researchers a permit allowing them to import honey bee semen. Of the 28 recognized honeybee subspecies, the researchers identified three — located in Italy, Georgia and the Alps – which they wanted to import.

One of Sheppard’s graduate students discovered that liquid nitrogen can maintain the viability of honeybee semen for decades, allowing for a genetic repository that would effectively preserve endangered subspecies.

In 1922, the U.S. restricted the importation of live bees after tracheal mites were identified as being responsible for killing bees on the England’s Isle of Wright, said Susan Cobey, Sheppard’s research associate, in the release.  According to Cobey, the ban effectively prevented tracheal mites from reaching U.S. shores for more than 60 years, until 1984.

The USDA reports that the number of colonies in the U.S. today is fewer than 2.5 million, down from 5 million in the 1940s.

Faris Tanyos

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