Genetically modifying bees to survive Canada’s cold winters

By genetically modifying bees to survive the cold weather in Canada, the country would not have to keep importing so many from the United States every year after one quarter of colonies die each winter.

Relying on imported bees is not only costly, it also raises the risk of more ‘killer’ bees coming into the country, as well as new diseases.

Professor Amro Zayed, a bee genomic expert who teaches and carries out research at York University’s Faculty of Science, and Prof. Leonard Foster, who works at the University of British Columbia, are leading a project to develop winter-hardy, disease-resistant bees.

genetically modifying beesProf. Zayed inspecting a bee colony. (Image: YouTube)

They have been awarded CAN$7.3 million in joint industry-government funding.

Concern regarding Canada’s food security

Prof. Zayed said:

“It is very clear that we have to develop innovative solutions for bee health because bee declines will have serious consequences for Canada’s economy and food security.”



Canadian honeybees produce about 75 million pounds of honey annually. They also pollinate many vegetable and fruit crops, nuts and oil seeds like canola.

Bees contribute over CN$4.6 billion to Canada’s GDP (gross domestic product) each year. Unfortunately, honeybee health has been declining in Canada, with several beekeepers reporting considerable annual losses over the past ten years.

The scientists will take a state-of-the-art tool for studying the health of humans, and apply it to honeybees.

HoneybeeIf honeybees can be genetically modified to better survive Canada’s winters, the country won’t be so dependent on imports.

Using genetic data to predict bee behavior

Prof. Zayed said:

“Our group has recently shown that you can predict the behaviour of specific colonies by knowing their genetics. We no longer have to spend a lot of time and effort observing colonies to determine if they are going to be healthy or not.”

The researchers will identify genomic and proteomic markers to selectively breed 12 economically viable traits.

Beekeepers will be able to rapidly and cost-effectively breed productive, healthy, disease-resistant bee colonies that can better survive the cold Canadian winters.

As this will not do away with the need to import bees from other parts of the world, the scientists will also develop a cost-effective and accurate test to detect bees with Africanized genetics.

The new test will be an improvement on an earlier version Prof. Zayed and colleagues from the University of Sydney developed.

They hope to eventually have new tools that beekeepers can use.

The researchers believe their project will provide significant economic benefits to Canada, including the country’s agri-food industry and beekeepers, to the tune of up to CAN$150 million annually.

The project, led by Ontario Genomics and Genome BC, will serve as a road map for better global honeybee health.

The research is being funded through the Genome Canada’s 2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics and Feeding the Future. Other funders include the BC Honey Producers Association, the BC Ministry of Agriculture, the University of British Columbia, Genome Alberta and Genome Quebec.

Video – Using genomics to save bees

In this video, Prof. Zayed talks about how genomics tools can help predict bee colony behavior to help breed better bees.

11 Comments
  1. stasn says

    When we kick in Carbon taxes we are going to need

    Genetically modified Canadians to survive the 15C inside house temperatures. and the forced
    ride your bike gangs to work…

  2. Foreign Devil says

    Hmm, so basically nothing will change for me. . I keep the house 17C in the winter and ride a bike to work. Bring it on!

  3. Foreign Devil says

    Is that figure right?? 7.3 BILLION in funding for this project?? Must be an error because I don’t think Cancer research in Canada even gets near that amount of funding. . If it is the correct figure. .then it means bees play a much much more serious role in our Countries stability and food chain than anyone has let on.

  4. Barty McBrat says

    Hmmmm….memories of GM bees from the X-Files comes to mind. Weaponized bees anyone?

  5. nanaimo12 says

    Enouigh of the dishonesty! THESE SCIENTISTS ARE NOT GENETICALLY MODIFYING BEES. They are using genomics to identify desirable traits in queen bees then BREEDING them in the manner used by humans for thousands of years with both animals and plants. This is a prime example of the laziness and sloppiness in which too many journalists indulge these days, and compromises the reputation of the entire industry.

  6. Shlomo says

    nothing they will do will improve on nature in the slightest.

  7. Shlomo says

    neither actual GMO which I very much doubt this is, or even selective breeding is going to add anything except more vulnerability due to over-reliance on one genetic type which will only lead to a disaster, Bees have short generation cycles , they can adapt quickly ,, the problem is NOT with the bees genetics it is with an environment full of pesticides that is killing everything, bees, insects, birds and untimely people whether you are able to identify the cause when it gets to the general population or not.

  8. Leonard James Foster says

    Thank you Nanaimo12. You’re absolutely right, this headline does NOT reflect what we’re trying to do in this project. We are trying to improve how we selective breed bees, not genetically modify them. The difference may seem subtle but it is important. We are looking at the natural variation in various traits in bees and using modern molecular tools to guide decisions on which bees to breed further. It is the same kind of selective breeding that humans have done for thousands of years, only by using modern tools we can do it more efficiently.

  9. Domestic Angel says

    watch the video buddy, its 7million…

  10. Bee-pocalypse says

    if those artificially selected genes for winterization got into Africanized bee populations, who then spread everywhere, including Russia and the Antarctic, that would make a great movie plot. :-)

  11. dr Moreau says

    Why not just breed bees in a chamber that slowly reduces in temperature? Nature will solve it faster than you could.

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