Scientists Track Gene Activity When Honey Bees Do and Don’t Eat Honey
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Many beekeepers feed their honey bees sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup when times are lean inside the hive. This practice has come under scrutiny, however, in response to colony collapse disorder, the massive -- and as yet not fully explained -- annual die-off of honey bees in the U.S. and Europe. Some suspect that inadequate nutrition plays a role in honey bee declines.
In a new study, described in Scientific Reports, researchers took a broad look at changes in gene activity in response to diet in the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera), and found significant differences occur depending on what the bees eat.
The researchers looked specifically at an energy storage tissue in bees called the fat body, which functions like the liver and fat tissues in humans and other vertebrates.
“We figured that the fat body might be a particularly revealing tissue to examine, and it did turn out to be the case,” said University of Illinois entomology professor and Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who performed the new analysis together with entomology graduate student Marsha Wheeler.
The researchers limited their analysis to foraging bees, which are older, have a higher metabolic rate and less energy reserves (in the form of lipids stored in the fat body) than their hive-bound nest mates -- making the foragers much more dependent on a carbohydrate-rich diet, Robinson said.
“We reasoned that the foragers might be more sensitive to the effects of different carbohydrate sources,” he said.
The researchers focused on gene activity in response to feeding with honey, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or sucrose. They found that those bees fed honey had a very different profile of gene activity in the fat body than those relying on HFCS or sucrose. Hundreds of genes showed differences in activity in honey bees consuming honey compared with those fed HFCS or sucrose. These differences remained even in an experimental hive that the researchers discovered was infected with deformed wing virus, one of the many maladies that afflict honey bees around the world.
“Our results parallel suggestive findings in humans,” Robinson said. “It seems that in both bees and humans, sugar is not sugar -- different carbohydrate sources can act differently in the body.”
Some of the genes that were activated differently in the honey-eating bees have been linked to protein metabolism, brain-signaling and immune defense. The latter finding supports a 2013 study led by U. of I. entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, who reported that some substances in honey increase the activity of genes that help the bees break down potentially toxic substances such as pesticides.
“Our results further show honey induces gene expression changes on a more global scale, and it now becomes important to investigate whether these changes can affect bee health,” Robinson said.
Loss Benefits Available to Beekeepers Don’t Miss the Sign-up Deadline
There is potential assistance available to you under the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) authorized under the Agricultural Assistance Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) for eligible honey bee losses.
The 2014 Farm Bill authorized $20 million each fiscal year for ELAP to provide emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honey bees and farm-raised fish. ELAP covers losses due to an eligible adverse weather or loss condition, including blizzards and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary. More specifically, for honey bee losses, ELAP provides assistance for the loss of honey bee colonies in excess of normal mortality. Also, the program covers damage to honey bee hives and honey bee feed that was purchased or produced for eligible honey bees, including additional feed purchased above normal quantities to sustain honey bees until such time that additional feed becomes available.
ELAP sign-up began at local FSA service centers on April 15, 2014, for eligible honey bee losses suffered during the 2014 program years. If you have suffered 2014 honey bee losses, you must submit an application for payment and a notice of loss to the local FSA office that maintains your farm records; however, if the local FSA office that maintains your farm records is not in close proximity to the physical location where the honey bee loss occurs, you may submit a notice of loss to the local FSA office in the county where the loss occurs.
For 2014 program year (losses occurring on or after October 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014), sign-up ends November 1, 2014. Please contact you local FSA office for types of records needed and to schedule an appointment. FSA will use data furnished by you to determine eligibility for program benefits. Furnishing the data is voluntary; however, without all required data, program benefits will not be approved or provided.
For a Fact Sheet overview of the 2014 Farm Bill USDA ELAP program and beekeeper eligibility, you can access the FSA website: http://fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/elap_livestk_fact_sht.pdf
Losses of Honey Bee Colonies Over the 2013/14 Winter
Preliminary Results From an International Study
The honey bee protection network COLOSS1 has today announced the preliminary results of an international study to investigate honey bee winter colony losses. Data were collected from Israel and Algeria and 19 European countries. In total 17,135 respondents provided overwintering mortality and other data of their honey bee colonies. Collectively, all responding beekeepers managed more than 376,754 colonies. A preliminary analysis of the data show that the mortality rate over the 2013-14 winter varied between countries, ranging from 6% in Norway to 14 % in Portugal, and there were also marked regional differences within most countries. The overall proportion of colonies lost was 9 %, the lowest since the international working group started collecting data in 2007.
These figures compare with losses over the same period of 7.85% in England and Wales (provided by the UK Food and Environment Research Agency). Losses of colonies in the USA between Oct. 1, 2013 and April 1, 2014 were also substantially
The protocol used to collect this COLOSS data has been
PROCEEDINGS OF THE AMERICAN BEE RESEARCH CONFERENCE NOW AVAILABLE!
The 2012 American Bee Research Conference was held February 7-8 at APHIS Headquarters in Greenbelt, MD in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Apiary Inspectors of America. The twenty-sixth American Bee Research Conference will be held in Hershey, PA in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Honey Producers Association in January 2013. To access these abstracts now, click on the link below. These abstracts represent some of the latest bee research being conducted in the United States. Enjoy!