Project Scope Breeding, Selection & Distribution (BrSD)
Project Target Breeding, selection & distribution of Honey bees which are resistant to Varroa destructor, productive and healthy, and thus fulfilling the demands of the beekeeping community.
Current Status, Assumptions and Proposed solution

– Problem definition

– Current solutions

– Expected future solutions, trends.

– Proposed solution

This project comprises the creation of a Varroa resistant line of honey bees by using existing and new methods for breeding and selection.

Several lines of honey bees have been identified with favorable Varroa resistance traits. Examples of this material are the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) and the Primorsky lines from the USDA. But other subpopulations with Varroa resistant characteristics have been identified in several countries and islands. These populations appear to have certain levels of Varroa resistance built up, presumably developed in response to strong Varroa selection pressure. However, unfavorable traits makes them unsuitable for large scale use (without further selection and breeding).

The knowledge and methods built up and developed in the recent decades, will be used to do perform a strong selection program in established, popular strains of bees. The first focus in the program will be to use the VSH brood selection methods developed by the USDA to select Varroa Resistant lines within the Carnica and Buckfast populations (for which pedigrees and controlled mating is available). Also other initiatives (with other strains of Bees) which have the ability to maintain material over a prolonged time period (with mating stations or artificial inseminations) will be supported and encouraged.

The project will consist of a comprehensive set of tasks; the breeding, distribution, data collection & selection of eventually several hundreds of queens per year. These will be tested by groups of organized and trained beekeepers. To perform these activities, professional queen breeding and artificial insemination will be applied.

The project can be split up into three (repeating) phases.

Phase I – Screening

In this phase a search and collection within the existing Carnica and Buckfast lines is performed. Queens of colonies with relative low mite growth numbers will be used in the first pool of colonies created with queens that are mated by using single-drone inseminations (SDI). SDI will narrow the genetic base of each test colonies to help ensure that favorable (VSH) alleles are either present in large quantities or absent, and that VSH expression is not diluted by patriline variation. This will facilitate the assessment of these colonies because (either 50% or more of the workers has the favorable allelic frequency or not) and will significantly increase the probability of passing the favorable genes to the next generation as all workers and queens will have the same father and a 50% probability of receiving possible favorable alleles from the queen mother. Once the (small) colonies have brood and bees from the SDI queen, they can be tested for Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) brood removal behavior (one or more alleles) by measuring the degree of brood removal of brood from highly Varroa infested colonies (or normal infested colonies in combination with the – to be proven – CT-scan technology). Queens showing favorable results in the brood test will be used in the enrichment phase.

Phase II – Enrichment

In the enrichment phase the most favorable material is combined several times (generations) to further increase the frequency of the favorable alleles. The goal will be to get the VSH trait “homozygote”. From the VSH-lines in Baton Rouge it can be concluded that this is the case if >70% of the infected brood is removed.

Phase III – Distribution

Once reliable, good performing lines can be established out of phase II, the next phase, distribution to the Mating stations & Beekeepers can start. This will also ensure that the favorable genes will be preserved in the established populations.

Repeating the phases

Only performing Phase I-III once would not be sufficient as we would only have a very narrow genetic base with a large probability of inbreeding. So phase I-III will have to be repeated for ideally several of the important lines of the current established pedigrees. This will ensure a healthy and sustainable Varroa resistant Carnica and Buckfast populations. This also makes it clear that it will be necessary to invest in the methodologies and create high performing and good cooperating beekeeper groups and teams.

The breeding and selection will be done in a way similar to how Open Source Software Systems are developed, i.e., by sharing good material and methods within the community with the purpose of reaching the highest quality output while maximizing the qualities and resources in “the network”.

Winter breeding

SDI colonies have the draw-back that the queens typically will only lay eggs for 3-6 months. So after the first assessment (in the summer), valuable material will have to be maintained. The European climate restricts testing to only one generation per year. The project would gain significant speed if breeding (and possibly selection) fo queens could continue over winter. The Foundation will for that reason investigate alternative locations where Winter breeding is possible (i.e., tropical areas or the Southern Hemisphere) and queens can be easily ex- and imported.

Support of other initiatives

The foundation will also support other (cross-) breeding programs of other groups and other strains by delivering hands-on support, materials, knowledge, support & training as long as the overall objective – a Varroa Resistant honey bee – is the same.

Science & Technology

– Target Technology: available, required

– Approach, Methodology, Tools

The technologies used in this project are well established and in most cases well documented. Extensive experience is present at the partners of the foundation. So this project does not have the focus on developing new insights or technologies, but concentrates on breeding and selection of Varroa Resistant lines. This first focus will be to establish and master the techniques (infected brood tests and one-drone insemination) within the foundation and within the cooperating bee-keeper groups.
Project Evaluation

– Potential value

– Probability of success

This project is the core project of the Foundation. Supported by successful cornerstone projects, this project will have to deliver the ultimate objective: Varroa resistant honey bees. A successful project is of enormous value as the Varroa mite infestations and the consequential losses would be significantly reduced. The lines and developed methods would have worldwide application and would strongly support the availability of pollination services.
Project Planning & Resources

– Planning

– Resources & Partners

This project will be delivering “the end product” and will be running for at least 10-15 years, ensuring a broad genetic base in all of the popular bee breeds. Efficiency could be gained for breeding projects if some of the methodologies are further developed (especially evaluating infested brood by CT scanning. A gradual increase of resources is planned: Starting with 1 FTE in 2014 to 6 FTE in 2017 (funding level 4).

USDA-Baton Rouge will assist with knowledge and experience in this project. The SDI and brood-infestation methods will be done with Buckfast and Carnica lines from different countries in Europe – in close cooperation with the Kirchhain institute which will also do SDIs and brood infestation with lines available in the institute itself. Prof. Brascamp (Wageningen University) will assist the breeding and selection activities with advice on the best breeding and combination strategies.