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30 Years of Scientific Innovation >> Examples of our Scientific Innovations >> The Future of Bees, the Future of Life

The Future of Bees, the Future of Life

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Breakthrough science supporting better bee health

Honey bees travelling from flower to flower are more than just a pretty sight; the species is the world’s most important, and most threatened, pollinator. Environmental changes including increased pesticide-usage mean high levels of concern globally about pollinator safety in the present agricultural climate. Eurofins is leading efforts to support and protect bee health and reverse the trend. Some of Eurofins’ innovative approaches in this area are now becoming part of standard industry protocol.

Eurofins’ Agroscience Services division developed an innovative method of fully investigating the effects of pesticides on the homing behaviour of honey and bumble bees. Tiny radio frequency identification transponders with unique identification numbers are permanently and harmlessly attached to each bee’s thorax. The transponders are registered by scanners at the hive entrance whenever a bee enters or leaves, allowing their homing rate to be assessed.

One sample of honey bees is fed different doses of an insecticide compared to an untreated control sample, and assessment is conducted within 24 hours of release. Available data covers the duration of foraging flights; the duration of return flights after treatment and during feeding studies; the return rate or homing success, and any confusion by the bees over hive entrances as a possible indicator of disorientation. The study design can also be adapted to include realistic field-exposure scenarios and to observe delayed effects for up to two weeks post-release. The Eurofins method provides data crucial to understanding the impact of the insecticide and any direct links between test types and their impact on bee health. Eurofins participates in an international laboratory ring test aimed at development of a standardised test design based on this technique.

Just as innovatively, Eurofins pioneered a field application method to assess the impact of abraded dust from pesticide-treated seeds on honeybees. Varying particle size makes the dust inherently more difficult to test than liquid substances; however, abraded pesticide particles or contaminated dust contain high concentrations of pesticide and can prove toxic to bees actively collecting pollen and nectar. Finding a solution was imperative, but previous trials proved labour-intensive and complicated and were affected by numerous factors including wind direction. Eurofins developed a purpose-built dust applicator which improved risk assessment methodology and opened up a range of field trials to investigate potential side effects on bees and other organisms.

Understanding about bees’ behaviour is aided further by Eurofins’ bee breeding programme. By ensuring the fittest possible queens, Eurofins supports the development of strong hives and standardised quality of bees for testing. With significant expertise in commercial queen production for the beekeeping industry, Eurofins is now able to produce mated sister queens, enabling proper trait-specific selection for breeder queens, perfect nutrition during larval development, and appropriate mating with quality drones. Breeder queens are selected from winter survivor stock from the 1000+ colonies across Eurofins’ Bee Health and Management Solutions farms.

Eurofins also takes an innovative approach to breeding methods for honey bees using genome-wide DNA analysis. Working alongside the Institute for Bee Research in Hohen Neuendorf, Germany, and deploying next-generation sequencing technology, Eurofins selected bees with increased resistance to deadly natural parasites and virus infections in combination with the varroa mite.  This guarantees breeding success, helping to develop healthy bee populations and to maintain functional eco-systems.

The science behind

Eurofins’ key role in safeguarding bee health includes solitary, honey and bumblebees. Quality bee-breeding is aided by testing queens and drones for fertility, reducing stressors and optimising nutrition. To aid selection of disease-resistant bees, Eurofins analysed the whole bee genome using next-generation sequencing to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), small natural changes, in the bees’ DNA. Bee variants are sorted according to the SNPs, using DNA chips developed to characterise gene variations in bees with known parasite resistance, productivity and docility. This allows beekeepers to identify the genetic basis for these positive traits and avoid time-consuming selection.