In recent years, hives of the honeybee (Apis mellifera) have been devastated in the States, European countries and Japan by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It’s a serious matter because we need bees to pollinate crops and wild plants.
CCD isn’t fully understood yet. I’m grateful to my fellow blogger The Creator at Anchors of Reason for telling us about new research which may provide part of the answer. A parasitic mite (Varroa destructor) is associated with CCD. This research team reports that infected bees are different from other bees. They produce more of one of their normal bee proteins, seeming to make them clean their hives more. From the report I’ve just linked to it’s not clear whether this study was done on naturally infected bees or whether they’d been infected experimentally.
This is exciting new evidence about what’s going on in CCD. I haven’t seen any data about whether this biochemical change, leading to this behavioural change, really works as a defence against CCD. Does it have a downside? What biologists call a ‘fitness cost’: change something and often, it’s costly for the organism. As for the possibility of selecting for bees which make lots of this particular protein, making them hive-proud, well maybe that’ll happen.
This is one of those stories so often seen, in which it’s tempting to speculate about what bright future may arise from a new piece of scientific evidence. Let’s not get carried away. But yes, it might be true that people could breed hive-proud bees. I hope so because we really do need bees.