Honeybees pollinate over 100 crops in the U.S., and they are extremely vital to agriculture. Unfortunately, the bees are being attacked by tiny, exotic parasitic mites, Varroa, which feed on bees developing inside the hive.
Large infestations of mites weaken or kill whole bee colonies. To protect bees, the Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory developed a genetic strain of bees that is capable of fending off Varroa mites. The bees have a trait termed Varroasensitive hygiene (VSH), a specific form of nest cleaning behavior focused on removing the Varroa-infested brood. Introgressing the genes that constitute the VSH trait into previously susceptible honeybees provided resistance to the Varroa mite. After the VSH trait was developed, a multifaceted
approach was used to transfer the technology to the beekeeping industry.
To protect bees, the Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory developed a genetic strain of bees that is capable of fending off Varroa mites.
The primary means of transfer involved a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Glenn Apiaries, which made the technology available to other queen breeders. This in turn allowed the technology to be utilized by other honeybee breeders who receive VSH semen for breeding through Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs). The result was that the VSH trait has been widely distributed as a publicly available breeding stock, with at least 25% of the queens now sold carrying the VSH trait.
The rate of adoption is surprising to many in the honeybee industry because of the habit of beekeepers to buy the strain of queen they have always used. The value of this to agriculture is significant because of the role honeybees play as crop pollinators. Pollination of U.S. crops by honeybees has been valued at $15 billion annually, based on estimates by Cornell University scientists. Improving bee health by the transfer of VSH technology has limited the loss of effective bee pollination by sustaining the availability and vigor of bee colonies. A conservative estimate of just one percent of the industry’s value represents a value of $150 Million to U.S. agriculture.