WSU researchers to create sperm bank for honey bees

Jun 9, 2013

Washington State University scientists are developing a sperm bank to capture the biodiversity of honey bees. The hope is to breed stronger pollinators as populations keep declining.

Researchers are preparing to use liquid nitrogen to create a frozen semen bank. They are also trying to come up with a new super-bee subspecies that could thwart the phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.

To extract semen from a bee, you need a powerful microscope and petit glass tubes.

Steve Sheppard, who chairs WSU’s Department of Entomology, says the project will build a genetic library of sorts to expand the diversity of traits breeders can draw from.

“The genetic material that breeders have to work with is only the material that’s in their bee hives. Where if you think of cattle breeding, there are thousands of bulls or possible ancestors that breeders can go back to. You can breed basically across time," Sheppard said.

Sheppard will be collecting bees in the European Alps and the United States for the project.

The WSU program is paid for by agribusinesses, and costs about $30,000 a year.