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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Bees in Europe and Sustainable Honey Production

Final Report Summary - BEE SHOP (Bees in Europe and Sustainable Honey Production)

The 'Bees in Europe and sustainable honey production' (BEE SHOP) project was a network of nine leading European honeybee research groups in honey quality, pathology, genetics and behaviour as well as selected beekeeping industries, which all share a common interest in promoting Europe's high honey quality standards. The prime goal was to reduce potential sources of honey contamination due to both foraging contaminated nectar and chemotherapy of honeybee diseases. The BEE SHOP therefore dealt with the development of biological resistance to pests and pathogens to avoid chemotherapy.

Honey is among the oldest food products of mankind and beekeeping is deeply rooted in every European culture. Numerous European and national regulations control honey quality, which reflects both the high nutritional and societal value of the product. Yet, in an environment with increasing chemical pollution and the wide use of agrochemicals, honey runs high risks of becoming chemically polluted. In addition a broad spectrum of chemicals is used to treat honeybee diseases, further contaminating honey with sometimes highly toxic compounds.

Selected European honeybee races and populations have been screened for their disease resistance potential to the main pressing pathogens. Differences in foraging patterns among European honeybees and their underlying mechanisms have been studied to identify behavioural traits reducing contamination. The impact of honey quality on disease prevention in honeybee colonies has been studied by analysing antimicrobial properties of plant and bee derived compounds in bee products. Newly developed tools for testing honey quality and authenticity now allow for inspections of honey according to the current EC directives on honey quality and organic beekeeping. Differences in disease susceptibility in honeybees has been genetically analysed by QTL mapping and major candidate loci in the genome have been identified with the aid of the published honeybee genome to allow for selection of specific target genes in both drones and queens before insemination. These genes may greatly accelerate the selection progress in honeybee breeding allowing for the swift establishment of resistant but efficient stock.

The aim of the honey department in the BEE SHOP project was the evaluation of honey quality and authenticity, through the development of new instrument for the verification of the botanical origin and the presence of impurities. The project was structured into the following work packages (WPs):

WP 1: Honey quality for consumers and pathogen defence.
The first aim was to develop improved standards for honey authenticity based on chemical analyses on secondary plant metabolites in honey. Under this WP, the following steps were taken: detection of floral origin markers for unifloral honeys, royal jelly proteins and honey authenticity, evaluation of honey quality in respect of description and production, evaluation of antibacterial properties and anti quorum-sensing activities of honey.

WP 2: Mechanisms of pathogen transmission and disease tolerance of colonies.
The objectives of WP 2 were to investigate pathogen transmission and disease tolerance at the colony level for AFB, Varroa mites and virus infections associated with Varroa mites. Most importantly, BEE SHOP has contributed new insights into inter-colony disease transmission by documenting actual rates of transmission in the field (American Foulbrood - AFB) and discovered venereal infection pathways.

WP 3: Variance among pathogens.
The objectives of WP 3 were to genetically characterise variants of the major honeybee pathogens in the EU, to develop quantitative methods for detection and to correlate different variants with individual larva and colony level virulence.

WP 4: Variance in disease tolerance among honeybees at the individual level.
The data demonstrate that substantial differences do exist but also that there is a substantial variation within races. This means that tolerance for AFB should be monitored in the bee population as a whole and not within specific subgroups. The conclusions of these experiments were that the variation between replicates was too large to establish the significance of any differences between the four bee races.

WP 5: Mapping QTL genes for disease resistance.
Testing resistance against AFB, gene expression studies yielded a Rab GTPase activator (Gene ID: GB10089) as the most likely candidate. As for resistance against the Varroa mite, a very interesting candidate (Dscam) has been found which confirms that the method was relevant. Linkage disequilibrium could be useful for QTL detection only at close distance in honey bee. It could be used in a second step to confirm candidate genes in population studies.

WP 6: Developing SNP markers for disease resistance.
This part of the project has to remain incomplete until the candidate regions are further narrowed down or alternative ways have been found to confirm candidate genes.

WP 7: Sustaining European honeybee races.
The current status of European honeybee populations was quantified by employing a novel genetic marker tool kit to estimate the density of honeybee colonies in different regions of Europe, detect the existence of wild colonies and test for the reliability of different mating apiaries. Results showed that wild honeybee populations have all but disappeared in many European countries.

WP 8: Foraging behaviour and contamination of honey with agrochemicals.
The goal of this work package was to study whether it is possible to induce avoidance of specific substances in honeybees as a consequence of aversive learning. Experiments showed that odour-electric shock associations can be built in this context so that bees learn to extend the sting to the odorant previously punished. Dopamine was identified as the substitute of aversive reinforcements in the honeybee brain. It was demonstrated that such aversive learning leads to long-term memories in honeybees and that these memories depend on protein synthesis and can last, eventually, the whole life of a honeybee. Precocious rewarded odour experiences lead to biased odour choices at the adult stage and that such biases are accompanied by dramatic reformatting of the adult honeybee brain supporting this long-term memory for odours imprinted at the young age.

WP 9: Novel techniques for reducing residues in honey.
The extension department has developed a suite of novel ways of disinfecting hives and apicultural equipment. These have been published in a manual on hygiene at the apiary. Disinfection techniques include treatments with a wide variety of compounds which must be used with the appropriate expertise. These treatments of the apicultural equipment will prevent undesired spread of bacterial diseases at the apiary before any clinical symptoms occur in the hives and hence reduce treatment of colonies and prevent contamination of honey with antibiotics, fungicides and other undesired chemicals.

Exploitable results, defined as knowledge having a potential for industrial or commercial application in research activities or for developing, creating or marketing a product or process or for creating or providing a service were not foreseen and have not been developed within the BEE SHOP network. All other results are free to use by the apicultural industry and open to the public. The BEE SHOP used a multilayered dissemination strategy including scientific publications, publications for the general public, oral presentation on conferences and seminars, schooling of extension specialists and interviews in the public media.