The WSU Bee Program is actively researching some of the most pressing issues facing bees today. We study bee health and nutrition, parasites and diseases, mating and reproductive systems, beekeeping management practices, and more to help ensure a bright future for bees and beekeepers.
We collaborate with beekeepers, farmers, and other research labs from around the country to improve honey bee survival and pollination services for our food supply. Our goal is to understand the complex landscape of honey bee health, to deliver real world solutions for bees and beekeepers, and to train the next generation of scientists.
Varroa mite control
Varroa mites are deadly parasites that feed on adult bees and developing young bees. In addition to the damage these mites cause by feeding, Varroa spread viral diseases that can devastate a colony. WSU is researching multiple ways combat Varroa mites, including the development of a biocontrol fungus that can infect and kill Varroa without harming bees. The Bee Team also partners with private industry to test new Varroa control treatments and works with beekeepers to determine which beekeeping practices help control mites in the hive.
Nutrition and bee health
Honey bees need a diversity of food sources to be healthy, but many bees are not fortunate enough to have access to good floral diversity for all the year. WSU researchers are investigating how nutrition affects the immune system of bees, bee lifespan, and colony performance. They are working with industry partners to create new honey bee feeds that are informed by the latest bee nutritional science. This includes the development of a novel bee feed made from the mycelium of fungi.
Honey bee pathogens and diseases
Honey bees are commonly infected with microbial pathogens that shorten their life span and lead to lost performance or even colony death. The WSU Bee Team is researching how these pathogens affect bees and ways to help bees and beekeepers fight these pathogens. This includes basic research into honey bee immune cells, testing nutritional supplements that can boost the bee immune system, and finding practices that can break pathogen life cycles.
Honey bee reproduction and mating
Honey bees have a unique mating system, queens mate in flight with numerous drones, averaging 15 to 20. Mating during the first week of adult life, the queen will store sperm in her spermatheca for her lifetime. The technique of instrumental insemination provides a method of controlled mating. This has value for breeding and research purposes. A world leader in honey bee reproductive science, WSU has developed cryopreservation techniques for the long term storage of honey bee semen. This is an advantage in the transport of valuable stocks and the conservation of honey bee genetic diversity worldwide.
Beekeepers and researchers from all over the world are constantly trying to find innovative ways to control bee diseases and improve overall bee health. The WSU Bee Team works with beekeeper partners to test new beekeeping strategies and measure how different practices affect colony health. This had led to advancements in the use indoor cold storage of bee colonies to induce a hibernation-like state that can help bees avoid difficult environmental conditions and interrupt the life cycle of diseases, and has helped migratory beekeepers balance providing pollination services and keeping their bees healthy.
Honey bee breeding program
WSU is home to a nationally recognized breeding program for honey bees. To diversify the U.S. honey bee gene pool, bee semen of European stocks collected in their native range have been imported to enhance domestic breeding programs. These stocks are available to queen producers and beekeepers across the country. WSU runs a breeding program for bees well-adapted to the climate of the Pacific Northwest.