A pair of Canadian universities on Wednesday began an effort to breed a hardier honey bee in an attempt to reduce the chances of another massive die-off.
Researchers at the universities of Guelph and Manitoba are heading the program, which seeks to breed a better bee through genetic selection, according to Agence France-Presse.
“It will also screen new products for pest and disease control, and try to come up with new ways of managing pollination colonies that face risks that include parasites, bacterial infections and pesticides resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment,” according to the report.
The Canadian government is providing $244,000 to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association to participate in the project.
The goal is to “help beekeepers secure sustainable honey harvests and provide essential pollination services to the fruit and vegetable industry,” the Canadian government said in a statement.
Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 percent in Europe, 30 percent in the United States, and up to 85 percent in Middle East, according to a United Nations’ report released earlier this year.
The term “colony collapse disorder” first began to appear in 2006 due to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America. The cause is still not fully understood.
Honey bees, which pollinate more than 100 different crops, are critical to global agriculture. They represent as much as $83 billion in crop value worldwide each year and roughly one-third of the human diet, Agence France-Presse reported.
In the Palmetto State, there are an estimated 2,000 beekeepers who manage about 25,000 honey bee colonies, according to the South Carolina Beekeepers Association.
“We’re looking for bees (for the breeding program) that are resistant to mites and with a greater tolerance to viruses because these appear to be the two main factors behind colony loss,” Rob Currie, entomology professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, told the wire service.
“Hopefully we can keep our bees going by making them stronger.”
Currie said the university has had success so far in keeping bee losses down to 40 percent in tests exposing them to diseases, compared to 75 percent previously.
“It’s not a total success, but it’s a significant improvement and that makes quite a lot of economic difference,” he added.