Monday, June 11, 2018

Yes, There is a Sperm Bank for Honey Bees by Karla Stover


Wynter's Way

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The poet Emily Dickenson once wrote that, "to make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee.  One clover and a bee . . ." but, what if there isn't a bee? Though honey bee populations have been in decline since 1977, it wasn't until 2005 that environmentalist began taking note of the really steep decline in their numbers. Let the blame game begin. After considering all kinds of factors, even the rise in cell phone use, scientists have pretty much named pesticides as the culprit.
     Now it might seem  reasonable to bring in healthy bees to bolster populations while pharmaceuticals begin the work of coming up with bee-friendly products.. But that's against the law. In 1922,tracheal mites began killing bees on the Isle of Wight, and to keep the mites out of the United States, Congress passed a law making it illegal to import live honey bees. The immigration ban worked until 1984, Then, in 1987, bees were given another death blow--Varroa jacobsoni. It was time for etymologists to take on the problem.
    

                                                      Sperm bank to the rescue.

     In 2008, the USDA gave Washington State University a permit to import honey bee semen for breeding purposes, subject to strict virus checks. According to WSU research associate Susan Colby, the semen is easy pretty to collect, it comes out when a drone is pushed on its tummy. It's collected with a syringe and can be frozen or used immediately to artificially inseminate a queen. Currently, WSU is using semen from the eastern section of the Alps, and from Georgia, a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. It is also looking to diversify the gene pool. It seems like a lot of work for an animal (insect) that isn't even native to the United States, but we have grown dependent on the little critters so it's a case of needs must. How the drones feel about this change to their sex lives isn't known. For them it's the ultimate sacrifice--they die.



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