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ARS organizing new bee genebank

New federal genebank will preserve genetic diversity of honeybees and help researchers breed better bees.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is organizing a national bee genebank as part of the agency's response to ongoing problems the country's beekeepers are facing.

Average losses of managed honeybee colonies have increased to more than 30% per year due to pathogens, pests, parasites and other pressures, including deficient nutrition and the sub-lethal impacts of pesticides. These stresses have threatened the continued business sustainability of commercial beekeepers.

The genebank, which will be located in Ft. Collins, Colo., will help preserve the genetic diversity of honeybees, especially for traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency.

It will also provide ARS and other researchers with access to resources from which to breed better bees, according to entomologist Robert Danka with the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics & Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La. Danka is helping shape the bee genebank. The Russian honeybee and Varroa Sensitive Hygiene lines developed at the Baton Rouge lab will be among those conserved first.

To help make the genebank a practical reality, ARS researchers are developing better long-term storage techniques for honeybees, including improving cryopreservation of bee sperm and embryos. Their work will include creating a way to reliably revive frozen embryos and grow them into reproductively viable adults after storage.

Another component needed to create the new genebank is a germplasm species committee, which will decide which species and subspecies to collect and preserve. ARS and Washington State University are working with beekeepers on the next steps for the committee.

Read more about the new genebank in the January 2016 issue of AgResearch.

ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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