Epigenetics and Its Importance to Genetic Stability in Honey Bee Populations

When we talk about keeping our honey bees healthy and happy, there’s something really special we need to think about, and it’s called “epigenetics.” It might sound complicated, but it’s actually a fascinating part of science that helps us understand how our bees can stay strong and resist diseases, all without changing their DNA – that is the recipe book for making every living thing. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m not a scientist! I am a beekeeping Primary School Teacher. This article wildly simplifies the topic in the hope that people like me can start to understand its importance. Therefore, if you are a scientist, go easy on me!

What is Epigenetics?

Imagine you have a cookbook (this is like the bee’s DNA), but you only use some recipes more than others based on the season or what ingredients you have. Epigenetics is like deciding which recipes to use. It doesn’t change the cookbook; it just changes which recipes are made. For bees, this means that without changing their DNA, they can still change how they react to their environment, fight off disease, and much more.

Why is it Important for Our Bees?

Bees face many challenges, from diseases and pests to changes in their living environment. Epigenetics helps bees adapt to these challenges without needing to change their DNA. This adaptability is crucial for their survival and health. It’s like having a secret weapon against diseases and pests that can harm them.

Environmental factors that trigger epigenetic mechanisms: Olivares-Castro G, Cáceres-Jensen L, Guerrero-Bosagna C, Villagra C. Insect Epigenetic Mechanisms Facing Anthropogenic-Derived Contamination, an Overview. Insects. 2021; 12(9):780. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12090780

Epigenetics in Queen Rearing

When we rear queens, we’re looking for the best ones that can lead a healthy, strong colony. Understanding epigenetics helps us choose queens that are not only genetically strong but can also pass on good traits to their offspring, like being resistant to certain diseases or being more adaptable to changes in the environment. This way, we make sure our bee populations stay healthy and strong.

Keeping Our Bee Populations Stable

For our bee populations to thrive and stay stable, they need to have a mix of good genetic traits. This diversity is like having a toolbox with all kinds of tools. You might not need every tool for every job, but having them all means you’re ready for anything. Importing queen bees can mix up our local bee’s toolbox in ways that might not be helpful, bringing in traits that might not suit our local environment or even introducing diseases.

The Case Against Importing Queens

Importing queen bees from other places can mess with the natural balance and the “toolbox” our local bees have built up over time to deal with their specific challenges. It’s a bit like using a recipe that’s meant for another country’s ingredients; it just might not work as well. By focusing on rearing our own queens and understanding epigenetics, we can help our bee populations stay strong, healthy, and well-suited to our local environment.

In Conclusion

Epigenetics is a powerful part of science that helps us keep our honey bee populations healthy and strong. By choosing the right queens and focusing on the traits that matter most for our local bees, we can make sure our hives thrive.

By understanding and applying the principles of epigenetics in our beekeeping, especially in queen rearing, we’re taking steps to maintain genetic stability and promote the health of our local honey bee populations. Let’s keep our bees buzzing strong!

What people who know what they are talking about say…

Here are a few references:

  1. Weiner, S. A., & Toth, A. L. (2012). Epigenetics in social insects: a new direction for understanding the evolution of castes.Genetic Research International, 2012.
    • “Scientists like Weiner and Toth have shown how epigenetics can explain why some bees become queens and others workers, highlighting its power in shaping bee societies.”
  2. Herb, B. R., Wolschin, F., Hansen, K. D., Aryee, M. J., Langmead, B., Irizarry, R., … & Feinberg, A. P. (2012). Reversible switching between epigenetic states in honeybee behavioural subcastes.Nature Neuroscience, 15(10), 1371-1373.
    • “Research by Herb and colleagues has discovered that bees can switch their roles from foragers to nurse bees, thanks to epigenetics, showing the flexibility in bee roles.”
  3. Moritz, R. F. A., & Erler, S. (2016). Lost colonies found in a data mine: global honey trade but not pests or pesticides as a major cause of regional honeybee colony declines.Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 216, 44-50.
    • “Moritz and Erler’s work reminds us of the impact of global honey trade on bees, suggesting the importance of maintaining local bee populations.”
  4. Kucharski, R., Maleszka, J., Foret, S., & Maleszka, R. (2008). Nutritional control of reproductive status in honeybees via DNA methylation.Science, 319(5871), 1827-1830.
    • “A study by Kucharski and his team shows how what bees eat can affect their queen or worker status through epigenetics, emphasising the role of diet.”