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Bee Semen Bank Could Potentially Save the Species

Update Date: Jun 10, 2013 01:44 PM EDT

Over the past years, honeybee colonies have disappeared mysteriously. Although researchers and experts are not sure how these bees are dying out exactly, they have several theories about the factors that contributed to the deaths of so many colonies. Researchers have believed that the combination of pesticides, invasive mites and poor nutrition to be the culprits of the honeybee decline. Since honeybees are vital for the ecosystem, researchers have been adamantly finding ways to preserve this insect species and prevent it from becoming extinct. Now, researchers from Washington State University have announced their plans to create a bee sperm bank.

In another attempt to preserve the honeybee species, researchers are planning on using liquid nitrogen to freeze some of the sperm from honeybee colonies within the U.S. and Europe. The researchers also stated that they plan on utilizing genetic cross-breeding techniques to breed a subspecies of honeybees that would ideally be more resilient against the current environment. This subspecies would also be more diverse, giving them a better chance at surviving.

In 2008, Washington State University was granted a permit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allowed researchers to legally import honeybee semen for the sole purpose of breeding. These samples have to pass strict screening tests for any dangerous viruses that could potentially kill out other species. Since the permit, the research team has identified three subspecies that are ideal, which are from Italy, the eastern Alps and the mountains of Georgia, which used to be a part of the Soviet Union.

The researchers explained that collecting semen from bees is relatively easy. The process involves placing pressure on a mature drone's abdomen, which pushes out the semen. The semen is then stored in a syringe that can survive for 10 to 14 days at room temperature. The semen can also be frozen so that the researchers can use it later on or it can be immediately injected into a queen bee. The researchers plan on selecting the strongest semen and using it to fertilize the strongest queen bees.

The concept of genetically mutating a species to create a stronger subspecies is not a new technique. Plant and animal breeders have done that for decades in order to find a better specimen that can survive under the current environment. 

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