beekeeper holding a honeycomb full of bees. Beekeeper inspecting honeycomb frame at apiary. Beekeeping concept

Research Lab

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.

Research Areas

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 where a young queen bee will fly and mate with 10-16 males during the first week of her adult life and then store that sperm inside her body for years of use. WSU is a world leader in honey bee mating and reproductive science. Bee Team members have trained hundreds of bee breeders from around the world how to use microscopes and instrumental insemination to create specific crosses and maintain valuable lines of honey bees. WSU has developed cryopreservation methods for honey bee semen, allowing for safe international importation and long-term storage of bee genetics. Researchers are investigating how honey bee queens store sperm and which genetics from the stored sperm are utilized to create the next generation.

Beekeeping practices

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. Researchers import genetics from the best bee colonies from around the world and establish new lines in Washington. In addition to distributing these new genetics to queen producers across the country, WSU runs a breeding program for bees well-adapted to the climate of the Pacific Northwest.