Awards and recognition

Scientists set to start $10M project to create health diagnosis tool for bees

In a news release by York University, Associate Professor Amro Zayed of York University, and Professor Leonard Foster of the University of British Columbia, will launch a $10 million project to develop a new bee health assessment and diagnosis platform on October 1, 2019. This project is supported by Ontario Genomics and Genome Canada.

Associate Professor Amro Zayed of York University (Photo by York Univerisity)

Prof. Leonard Foster of the Michael Smith Laboratories (Photo by Paul Joseph, UBC)

“We need to think of innovative solutions to fix the bee health crisis. The current tools are just not cutting it,” said Zayed in the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science.

Honey bees produce 90 million pounds of honey each year and are needed to pollinate some of Canada’s most lucrative crops. Their pollination services are valued at $5.5 billion per year in Canada alone.

The causes of bee decline are complex, variable, and difficult to identify. But beekeepers and government regulators need to rapidly identify the stressors impacting specific populations before they can make changes to improve bee health. Currently, the industry uses post-mortem analysis to test for the presence of a few known pathogens or toxins in dead colonies. These tests are often expensive, time-consuming, and provide an incomplete picture of the stressors affecting bee health.

The research team is looking to modernize the industry by delivering a tool to quickly assess bee health in living colonies that would allow loss-mitigating strategies to be implemented.

“You can identify the stressors affecting a colony, not by searching for the stressor itself, but by looking for specific signatures of stress in the bee – what we call biomarkers,” explained Zayed. “The biomarker approach has a lot of potential for quickly screening stressors affecting bees before colonies decline.”

The researchers will use genomic tools to measure stressor-induced changes in bees to identify biomarkers for specific stressors. By the end of the project, the researchers envision a system where beekeepers can send their samples for biomarker testing and receive a report with both a health assessment and information on the most effective management strategies, which can then be applied in the field to improve the health of their colonies.

The research team is comprised of 22 researchers from across Canada including researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), University of Manitoba, University of Guelph and University of Laval. The project is funded through Genome Canada’s Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics Solutions for Agriculture, Agri-food, Fisheries and Aquaculture. Funding partners include Genome Canada, AAFC, Genome British Columbia and Genome Quebec.

Follow this project on Twitter @BeeCsi