Apis mellifera mellifera – using DNA testing to establish honey bee ancestry

ian Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding ,

Apis mellifera mellifera – using DNA testing to establish honey bee ancestry

Results of DNA testing shows the queen I sent to Apigenix lab last month, to be “pure” Apis mellifera mellifera.

During the last five years, the aim of my queen rearing and bee improvement programme has been to raise queens from my best colonies and to encourage local open mating, here in rural Northumberland.  Breeder colonies have been selected for their health, temperament and productivity.  Local, open mating means that new queens mate with the best drones from the strongest colonies in the area.

Purity of strain has never been a basis for selection, so it was a surprise when conducting wing morphology tests on my colonies, that they came back with results which suggested that they were native, or at least near native Apis mellifera mellifera.

I was interested to confirm the results of wing morphology by sending off one of my queens for DNA testing.  The results received last week confirmed that my bees are native or at least near-native.

Using DNA analysis to confirm Wing Morphology results

Previously I had performed wing morphology tests on my colonies.  This is a relatively simple and inexpensive test to carry out.  It involves plotting the vein intersections on the main wing, using special software.  I used CBeeWing, to plot and analyse the wings, as shown below.

What was involved with DNA analysis performed by Apigenix lab?

The process of sending the queen for a “Genetic Hybrid Test” was quite straight forward.  It involved going onto the Apigenix website.  I placed an order,  Dr Gabriele Soland from Apigenix made contact through email and sent me a small container.  I sent the queen off in the container, paid 100 Euro by bank transfer and received the results reports within two weeks.

The queen results were “90-100% probability of belonging to the Apis mellifera mellifera group”.

Dr Gabriele Soland explained:

“90% Probability is the threshold, above which individuals are accepted as pure.  Below is a picture of a genotype profile of one of the microsatellite loci.  Peaks indicate the length of the fragment. These genotypes are the basis for the statistical analysis. At the moment we are working with 12 microsatellite loci”.

Which queen did I send for DNA Analysis

My strategy for improving my bees is based on promoting the best third of my colonies, maintaining the middle third and demoting the worst third of colonies.  See more about this in the blog “why I put characteristics before ancestry“.

In the early spring I made the tough decision to merge one of my strongest but defensive colonies, with an overwintered strong nuc with good temperament.  Rather than dispose of the queen, during the merge, I decided to send her off for DNA analysis.  Many of the other queens in my apiary are her much calmer sisters!

DNA Testing Summary

Purity of strain has never been a basis for selection, so it was a surprise when conducting wing morphology tests on my colonies, that they came back with results which suggested that they were native, or at least near native Apis mellifera mellifera.

I was interested to confirm the results of wing morphology by sending off one of my queens for DNA testing.  Results of DNA testing shows the queen I sent to Apigenix Lab last month, to be “pure” Apis mellifera mellifera.

For this to be the case, while using a local open mating strategy, with queens reared from my own colonies, suggests that Apis mellifera mellifera feral and kept colonies in the area are surviving the winter better and putting out better drones, than any non-native bees, here in Rural Northumberland.

Perhaps this is the bees showing us that the natural selection basis of their mating biology is more successful and sustainable than any artificial form of intervention by beekeepers.

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1 Comment

  1. Ian, Many thanks for sharing this information with me and congrats on searching such good evidence for your breeding strategy. I was reading recently how bees and other creatures evolve to an equilibrium with their local pathogens. Obviously there is no advantage to a lethal pathogen if it just destroys its host.
    The introduction of queens from other areas can seriously upset this equilibrium. Local to my mind is the area from which drones in a mating queen’s selected DCA come from. We are told by Koenigers et al, that this DCA can be 2 or 3 miles away. Well pi R Sq is a big area and could contain hundreds of colonies, so not much chance of inbreeding or more precisely shared sex alleles.
    I can’t work out if there might be a natural drift towards Amm genome in this part of the world for reasons we don’t yet understand. Climate would be part of this I think but what genes are affected? And what about climate changes already here?

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