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Neonic-resistant bees?

Not on the horizon, says York University researcher

By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content

Researchers from Ontario Genomics and Genome BC are exploring whether some bees can be genetically engineered to withstand Canada’s harsh winters.

With concerns about pollinator health and Ontario’s pending restrictions of neonicotinoid-treated seed usage, could bees be genetically engineered to withstand neonics?

According to a York University researcher, not right now.

“We talked about it and we decided against it for a few reasons,” said Dr. Amro Zayed, a professor at York University involved in the research with Genome BC.

Amro Zayed
Dr. Amro Zayed

The first reason Zayed mentioned is the uncertainty surrounding the transfer of the specific trait from one bee to another.

“To do selective breeding, you have to know that the trait is actually heritable,” he said. “You can’t do selective breeding on a trait that isn’t controlled by genetics.”

Using dairy cattle as an example, he said if milk production was not genetically determined and cows were selectively bred based on high milk production, the next generation of cows would return to average production because the difference is in the environment, not genetics.

“We don’t know what the heritability of neonicotinoid resistance is.”

Zayed also explained there are simply too many bees to consider, and selecting one kind of bee could harm the other pollinators.

“The honeybee isn’t the only pollinator,” he said. “There’s also the bumblebee and in Ontario, between 700 and 800 species of native bees.

“Imagine if we were able to do selective breeding for neonic resistance on the honeybee. Only the honeybee would benefit. The technology would only work for the honeybee and not all the other native bees; the honeybee would do well but we’d be sacrificing other pollinators.”

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