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WSU Researchers To Create Sperm Bank For Honey Bees

Scott Butner

Washington State University scientists are developing a sperm bank to capture the biodiversity of honey bees. The hope is to breed stronger pollinators, since populations keep declining.

Researchers are preparing to use liquid nitrogen to create a frozen semen bank. They’re also trying to come up with a new super-bee subspecies that could thwart the phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.

To extract semen from a bee you need a powerful microscope and petit glass tubes.

Steve Sheppard chairs WSU’s Department of Entomology. He’s says the project will build a genetic library of sorts, to expand the diversity of traits breeders can draw from.

“The genetic material that breeders have to work with, is only the material that’s in their bee hives. Where if you think of cattle breeding, there are thousands of bulls or possible ancestors that breeders can go back to. You can breed basically across time.”

Sheppard will be collecting bees in the European Alps and the United States for the project.

The WSU program is paid for by agribusinesses, and costs about $30,000 a year.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.