Honeybee Sperm Bank Created with Liquid Nitrogen: Bee Genetic Diversity Preserved (Video)

First Posted: Jun 10, 2013 09:25 AM EDT

Honeybees are declining rapidly, disappearing from our nation's farms and countryside. Now, though, these insects may be getting a helping hand from scientists. Researchers from Washington State University are preparing to use liquid nitrogen to create a frozen semen bank from select U.S. and European honeybee colonies in an attempt to preserve the species.

Honeybees have been in decline since 1922, when tracheal mites were identified as the likely cause of bee kills on England's Isle of Wight. Since then, though, these concerns--and bee kills--have migrated to the U.S. The Varroa mite was introduced into America, which killed bee colonies within two years without the intervention of a beekeeper. Since then, issues such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other serious complications have affected the insects that pollinate so many of our crops.

Pollinating everything from apples to watermelon to cucumbers, honeybees are a crucial part of agriculture. Farmers regularly employ these insects when their flowers bloom, using them to cultivate their crops. With their potential loss, farming costs could increase drastically.

Yet this latest initiative could save the species. There are approximately 28 subspecies of honeybees, which means that there's a wealth of genetic material to work with. Some are more adapted to colder climates, while others breed earlier and more often. In order to find appropriate genetic stock, researchers have been gathering semen from Carniolan bees of the eastern Alps and Caucasian bees from the mountains of Georgia.

In order to actually collect this semen, the researchers apply a tiny amount of pressure to a mature drone's abdomen. This pushes out the semen, which is then collected in a syringe equipped with a capillary tube. In theory, this semen can then be injected into selected queen bees in order to diversify the gene pool in the United States.

Yet the researchers aren't just content with creating a more genetically diverse honeybee population. They're also interested in preserving this DNA for future generations. Liquid nitrogen can maintain semen viability for decades, which means that the researchers are using the material in order to preserve the bee semen.

The latest initiative could help honeybee populations rebound and could allow them to combat the current conditions set against them. In addition, the semen bank could allow researchers to breed "super bees" which could better adapt to the changing climate.

Want to learn more about the work being done to save the honeybee? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube and WSU.

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