Bee Breeder-Geneticist Susan Cobey to Discuss Importance of Diversity in Honey Bees

May 2 seminar at UC Davis to focus on importance of genetic diversity in honey bees.

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Special to Dixon Patch

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the University of California, Davis  and Washington State University will discuss the importance of  genetic diversity in the honey bee at her UC Davis seminar on Wednesday, May 2 in 122 Briggs Hall.
Cobey will discuss “Importation of Honey Bee Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity in Domestic Breeding Stocks" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall as part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology’s spring seminar series.

Cobey, a UC Davis researcher since May 2007 and a former student of Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., for whom the UC Davis bee lab is named, gave practical application to the Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding theory in development of the New World Carniolan line, in its 31st generation and now an industry standard.  She  is a world expert on the instrumental insemination of queen bees. Her classes on queen rearing and instrumental insemination draw students from all over the world.

Increasing the overall genetic diversity of honey bees may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests, Cobey said. Just as stock improvement has served the poultry, dairy and swine industries well, the beekeeping industry needs access “to stocks of origin or standardized evaluation and stock improvement programs.”

The many problems that currently face the U.S. honey bee population have underscored the need for sufficient genetic diversity at the colony, breeding, and population levels,” wrote Cobey and colleagues Walter “Steve” Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology and David Tarpy of North Carolina State University, formerly a graduate student at UC Davis in a chapter of the newly published book, Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions (Contemporary Topics in Entomology).

European colonists brought a small subset of European bees to America before the U.S. Honey Bee Act of 1922 restricted further importation of Old World honey bees to prevent the introduction of the tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi. These early importations represented a limited sampling of several subspecies, Cobey said.

“The limited foundation stock has been propagated and expanded to establish the existing U.S. beekeeping industry,” the abstract related. “In addition, the destruction of a once widespread feral population by parasitic mites and the genetic consequences of large scale queen production practices have contributed to reduce genetic diversity in U.S.  honey bee populations. “

To enhance domestic U.S. breeding stocks, scientists and beekeepers from UC Davis, WSU and the California Bee Breeders' Association are working together to develop and test protocols for the international exchange of honey bee germplasm and to incorporate  imported stocks into established U.S. breeding stocks.

Research co- developed by Cobey was presented in March at the first International Symposium About the Carniolan Honey Bee in Slovenia. The conference drew scientists, researchers and queen breeders interested in the conservation of Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica). Two of the key goals were to establish an international group for the preservation of the Carniolan honey bee, and to launch collaboration between the professionals in the field of Carniolan honey bee preservation and selection.

Much in demand as a speaker, Cobey has presented seminars thorughout the United States, Central and South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. She was recently invited to Cuba for the 3rd Latin-American Beekeepers' Meeting and the 4th Cuban Beekeeping Congress. Cobey will be a keynote speaker for the Apimondia Symposium on Honey Bee Breeding in Quebec in November 2012.

In a webcast project coordinated by professor James R. Carey, the seminars will be videotaped and posted at a later date on UCTV.


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