My present and long-term research goal is to improve commercial queen stocks. I have seen breeder colony selection from both commercial beekeepers and the University of Minnesota, and I believe integrating genomic techniques can greatly enhance breeding efforts. By using current genomic technology, we can better understand the mechanisms of phenotypes and use this knowledge to improve honey bee performance and health. However, I foresee 2 major hurdles: 1) understanding the complexities of a desired phenotype and 2) how can we apply this genomic information to improve honey bee phenotypes. While these are major challenges, we can acquire this information by integrating genomics, transcriptomics, computational biology and biochemistry.
I am interested in 2 phenotypic categories: mite resistance and abiotic stress resistance. The first, mite resistance, has a storied history for me as I have seen its impact on many beekeepers. Honey bees have phenotypes with partial resistance to mites, such as hygienic behavior, Purdue mite biters, and Varroa- sensitive hygienic behavior (VSH). Moreover, other phenotypes with mite resistance may exist. Secondly, I am interested regional abiotic stresses, and how colonies cope with it. Colonies often face regional specific abiotic stresses, such as weather variation, foraging dearth(s), and differences in temporal foraging. Some colonies have phenotypes suited for certain environments, and can tolerate those abiotic challenges. Phenotypes are complex, but by elucidating this mechanisms, breeding and selection programs can be improved.
Today, genomics is one of the most powerful tools available to scientists. Genomics can be an incredibly useful tool for beekeepers as well. With new genetic tools we can do amazing things for the industry. For example, with proper selection, honeybees can develop natural defenses towards Varroa, pathogens, and diseases. Historically, this type of selection is difficult and time consuming for beekeepers. However, beekeepers can easily select for traits using genomic techniques. A “23andMe” like genetic test for honeybees can be used to improve stock and select for natural defenses against mites and diseases that impact honeybees.