Free genetic testing for Australian bee breeders

Plan Bee, the National Honey Bee Genetic Improvement Program has announced that it will be offering free genetic testing to all Australian bee breeders who are interested in learning more about their genetic lines.

Commencing early 2022, interested breeders who are already collecting data, or are interested in collecting data for trait selection (such as honey production or disease resistance) will be able to submit samples to the national program and in return receive a report which outlines key genetic information on their stock which can provide valuable insights on the genetic health of their hives.

Key information provided will include how closely related an individual hive is to others and more importantly, whether stock is showing any signs of inbreeding. If caught early, inbreeding can be managed out of the population before it becomes a major issue.

According to Nadine Chapman, Plan Bee project lead, beekeepers who submit samples for genetic testing are not only learning more about their stock but also helping improve the entire beekeeping industry.

“The more data we can collect on the genetics of our national bee stock the closer we come to be able to develop a national database,” Ms Chapman said.

“Ongoing genetic testing means we will be able to develop accurate Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for the queen bee breeding industry. EBVs, more commonly used in the red meat and dairy industries, is a measure of genetic merit for specific traits.

One of the key outcomes of Plan Bee will be the ability for bee breeders to use EBVs for their stock. By using EBVs, beekeepers can purchase queens which are more likely to exhibit specific traits such as low aggressiveness, high honey production or resistance to disease.

For breeders, they will be able to prove the strength of specific genetic lines, boosting the value of superior queens. Overall, by adopting modern genetic practices, the value of the queen bee breeding and beekeeping industries will increase.

The program is supported by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) as part of its Rural Research and Development for Profit program.

To further assist in the collection of data, the Plan Bee team will be organising farm visits in early 2022, to help collect samples. Any breeder interested in participating in this program should contact Nadine Chapman: nadine.chapman@sydney.edu.au

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