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

Beebytes currently offers the following genetic test:

M/C Lineage Admixture Analysis

This test analyses a small number of variants in the bees’ DNA (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or ‘SNPs’). These particular variants have been shown to differentiate the 2 main honey bee lineages present in the UK: M – mellifera, or C – carnica/ligustica. This test allows to see how much hybridisation (admixture) is present in the bees, and is useful for projects focusing on breeding ‘native’ bees, selecting for M or C lineage. Traditionally native bees were identified based on physical characteristics such as wing venation and hair colour, however these will be under the genetic control of a very small number of the 10,000+ genes in the genome. Consequently, breeding on these characteristics alone will simply select for the handful of genes involved in their development. The SNPs on this however are distributed throughout the genome, providing a much more balanced and informed approach.