Grand Forks locals help with Bee Genome with UBC

Grand Forks, BC Terry and Elizabeth Huxter assist in studying bees and their traits for the Bee Genome.

Grand Forks residents Terry and Elizabeth Huxter are preparing to study honey bees, their various traits and how to save them from diseases.

Working alongside Genome BC and Genome Canada with the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, the Huxters are focusing on how to make bees more self-sufficient.

In the past several years, there has been news that bee colonies across North America are facing collapse due to widespread diseases.

The aim of the project is to help the bees look after themselves with fewer treatments, which is done through breeding.

“To do that with breeding, we look at certain traits and in order to define those traits, presently, the best and only way is from field testing,” explained Elizabeth Huxter. “This project is going to attempt to make this a lot easier for beekeepers, by making what’s called marker-assist selection.”

Marker-assist selection is done through identifying traits from proteins taken from bee samples.

One way to identify hives that do a certain thing is by comparing bee samples or different parts of a bee to determine if there is some clue chemically that is contrasting.

“As an example, a pregnancy test,” stated Huxter. “If you’re pregnant or not, you can tell with the drug store test. That’s what they’re hoping to do for bee breeders.”

An example of a test is how they determine whether bees like to clean things out a brood.

“We have a test where we freeze a small circle of brood (a patch of about 70 cells) and the next day we go in and see how fast they’ve opened up the cells and cleaned out the dead bees, the little pupae. So that’s our task for hygienic bee breeds,” she said.

Huxter noted the project is looking to find markers to help with breeding, which is the part she is involved with.

There are three parts to the project: the marking, an economic analysis, and an integrated path management (IPM) that determines which pathogens are the worst.

“There are five to six diseases commonly found in bees so we’re going to look at those and determine which ones are the worst and which combinations are the worst,” she said. “Bees have a lot of problems, just like we do. They have viruses, bugs, fungus, bacteria and mites as well.”

Huxter usually works from Grand Forks and during the summer, people from UBC visit and help her take samples. Huxter also receives help from locals.

Along with aiding UBC’s academic endeavours, Huxter stated she and Terry have their own breeding program.

“That program isn’t just around specific traits but around self-sufficiency by bees,” she explained. “So we run some yards where bees are not treated at all and then we breed from the survivors.”

The Huxter’s method is known as survivor-ship breeding, which is similar to IPM but allows nature to do its own thing.

“I think that’s a nice holistic approach, with a similar approach to the Genome BC project, but just a different avenue to go about it,” she said. “So we have these two ways we go about trying to reach our goals. One is more academic while the other is more holistic approach.”