Information for Beekeepers

Beebytes offers genetic testing and analytical services to beekeepers interested in finding out more about their bees and improving bee health and management.

What is genetic testing?

DNA is present in every living thing, and encodes the ‘instructions’ to make that organism. The DNA of a bee is unique to that bee, however related bees will share more DNA in common than unrelated bees.

By collecting organic samples from a bee, a hive, or the local environment, we can analyse the DNA present and find out more about that individual, colony or ecosystem.

Traditionally these processes have been very time-consuming and expensive, but technology has moved on and such tests are now much more affordable. However, testing and analysis requires expertise which is not widely available outside of the scientific community.

Beebytes is composed of specialists in the fields of genetics, beekeeping and information science. By pooling our skills we can act as a bridge between the worlds of genomics and beekeeping, to the benefit of all.

  • Data generated from DNA contributes to a growing database, enabling comparisons to be made against ‘pure’ subspecies to study hybridisation – for instance to support native subspecies breeding programmes
  • DNA can facilitate tracing the ancestral lineage of colonies from mother to daughter for bee breeding projects, or to study the geographic relatedness of bees – much like human ancestry testing
  • DNA from the microbes in the gut can be studied, enabling the identification of pathogens and ‘friendly bacteria’
  • DNA from pollen collected with traps or present in honey can be studied to identify the plants bees are feeding on at various times of the year – which combined with data on the sampling location can paint a picture on the quality of the landscape at a given time
  • Comprehensive analysis of DNA can enable the identification of genes associated with traits such as diseases resistance or hygienic behaviour – providing a pathway to intervention

Services for beekeepers

We currently offer the following testing services which are available to order online. However we are also able to offer a wider range of sampling and testing services. If you are unsure about which service would suit your needs best, or have a particular project in mind, please get in touch to discuss what we can offer.

Colony Admixture Analysis

This test analyses a small number of variants in the DNA of a colony to look for the presence of the 2 main honey bee lineages present in the UK: M – mellifera – the native honey bee, or C – carnica/ligustica – the imported subspecies.

This test allows to see how much hybridisation (admixture) is present, and is useful for projects focusing on breeding ‘native’ or ‘black’ bees. This test is significantly more accurate than wing morphometry, and provides information on the queen’s genetics by analysing her drones.

This test is best for those wishing to identify the levels of native honey bee genetics in a single colony, for example those wishing to identify the best colonies to breed from, or to track changes in levels of hybridisation down a lineage over a period of time.

This test involves collecting a single antenna from 15 drones in a colony. This is enough to then allow us to ‘reconstruct’ the queen’s DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA Ancestry Analysis – Add-on service

There is an optional ‘add-on’ to the Colony admixture analysis test which analyses the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) as well as the nuclear DNA. Since mtDNA passes down the maternal line, it can show signs of historical hybridisation, even when later breeding has resulted in the nuclear genes which were gained in that hybridisation event to have been lost again over time.

This test is useful for those who want to be sure that the bees they are working with have historically always been of one lineage, rather than potentially being descendants of a queen of one lineage which have subsequently picked up genes from another lineage over time.

This service can be selected from the dropdown on the Colony test page in the shop.

Apiary Admixture Analysis

This test works in the same way as for colony admixture analysis. However instead of sampling a single colony, samples are taken from multiple hives across an apiary or area, and the results averaged to give a score for the area sampled.

This test is best for those wishing to get a ‘feel’ for the background levels of M and C lineages in an area. This is useful for those starting out in bee breeding or conservation who want a broad overview of the current state of the bees in their area; for sentinel apiaries for established apiaries looking for incursions of hybrid genetics; or for comparing different apiaries to see which are less prone to hybridisation, or to ‘narrow down’ which apiaries to then carry out single colony testing in to find the best colonies for breeding from.

This test involves collecting a single antenna from a maximum of 50 worker bees. It is up to the customer how these are distributed across colonies, though the same number of antennae must be collected from each colony. We would recommend a minimum of 2 and ideally 5 from each colony.