Beebytes offers genetic testing and analytical services for honey bees, pollinators and their environment. Our list of services with information on what we offer is provided below.
We are also happy to discuss any projects you may have in mind where we can assist with genetic testing or other related services or consultancy.
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 the 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, beekeeping and pollinator conservation, 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
Honey Bee Hybridisation
This test looks at the genetics in a small sample of drones in a colony to identify the level of admixture (hybridisation) present between the 2 main honey bee lineages present in the UK: M – mellifera – the native honey bee, or C – carnica/ligustica – the most commonly imported honey bee subspecies.
This test 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.
We offer a detailed report on the results of our analysis. See here for an Example Report
This test can be purchased directly through our Shop
This test works in the same way as for single colony 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 can be purchased directly through our Shop
Honey Bee and Insect Health
Whole Genome Sequencing
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is a process of analysing the entire DNA of the sampled animal. WGS is the most comprehensive genetic test available, providing ‘low-level’ analysis of the make-up of a bee. WGS allows multiple different forms of analysis to be undertaken, including looking at hybridisation, comparison of honey bee lines, traits, diversity, inbreeding and bee health.
If you are interested in obtaining a high level of information about your bees, especially with a view to specialist breeding and conservation work, we are happy to discuss these services.
Honey Bee Microbiome
This test involves identifying the microbes which are living on and in the bee. We use a process called DNA metabarcoding to identify all of the bacteria, fungi and protozoa and other organisms in the sample. This allows us to identify both beneficial microbes and pathogens, such as nosema, foulbroods, amoeba as well as larger organisms such as acarine (tracheal mites).
This test is best carried out on a number of bees from a colony to provide as diverse a sample as possible. Please get in touch if you are interested in this service.
Pollen from Honey
Identifying pollen in honey is traditionally done by specialists using microscopes to identify pollen based on their features, such as size, shape and surface appearance. This process, known as melissopalynology, is quite difficult and may not always be accurate down to species level, or fully represent the true diversity of pollen in a sample.
We can analyse the pollen extracted from a honey sample using DNA metabarcoding. This process looks for markers in the DNA extracted from the pollen. These unique markers can identify pollen to a family, genus or species level, and can provide very detailed reports, especially for under-represented species that might otherwise be missed.
Only a small sample of honey is needed to extract the pollen for analysis, and a detailed report on the plant species found is provided. We can also provide confirmation of the results via light microscopy, including imagery of the pollen grains seen.
If you are interested in pollen analysis from honey samples please contact us for more information.
The processes used to sample pollen from honey can also be used on pollen gathered from the environment. Pollen can be sourced from cells in beehives, from pollen traps at hive entrances, from environmental pollen traps, or from nests of other pollinators, such as solitary bees.
Environmental pollen analysis is of interest both to beekeepers – who want to know what their bees are feeding on, but also to others interested in the range of forage and overall biodiversity in a particular area.
If you are interested in our environmental pollen analysis service, please get in touch.