Genetic selection: goals and difficulties

The main goal of beekeepers when following a genetic selection program is to modify bees’ genome to highlight certain characteristics. Such as colony’s gentleness to humans, productivity (based on the number of kilos of honey, of pollen, of royal jelly), pollination rate, disease tolerance or even the fact that bees stay on the frames when beekeepers open their hives. On average, it takes over 10 years to stabilize a genetic characteristic.
The difficulties of changing or isolating a genetic characteristic include: finding a viable and rigorous scientific method, keeping the results effective throughout time or to avoid developing inbreeding, which in turn would reduce the brood’s viability.

A successful genetic selection

The greatest beekeeping selection success is the Buckfast race, a combinaison of European bees, named by Brother Adam (1898- 1996) after the monastery that hosted its scientific researches in south England.

How to test the effectiveness of you program

When controlling the efficiency of your genetic selection programs or queen’s rearing, you can use several tests, here are two examples.
Firstly: the frozen brood test, created by geneticist W.C Rothenbulher in 1964, to fight American foulbrood, also useful nowadays against varroa. The test is very simple, to test the heritability of a gene you have to observe the colony’s capacity of cleaning dead larvas. To do so, you take out a portion of brood and freeze it for 24 hours, thereby killing the larvas, and put it back in the hive. If, within the first 48 hours, the cleaning bees have taken out all the dead larvas you can conclude the your genetic selection program was effective.
The second test help you validate the effectiveness of a selection program focusing on the increase of honey production. The goal is to analyze whether your bees store nourishing sirop, the greater they store in advance, the greater they will produce honey.