After years of investment it was great for Project Apis m. staff to get to see the launch of UBeeO, a kit designed for beekeepers to be able to test their colonies for desirable traits to pass on to the next generation, at the North American Honey Bee Expo a few weeks ago.
The kit was developed by University of North Carolina Greensboro researchers Dr. Kaira Wagoner and Phoebe Snyder who founded the company Optera in 2023 where the kit can be purchased after more than a decade of research and development.
PAm's first for to know Dr. Wagoner when she was awarded one of our PAm-Costco PhD Scholarships. At that time, she was at the beginning of her journey to understand and harness the power of the “unhealthy brood odor”, a smell released by diseased or dying brood, that would later become the basis for the UbeeO kit. Over the years, PAm put additional funding towards this work totaling six awards, $178,280, that allowed the research to progress between other larger grants.
Wagoner and Synder identified that the unhealthy brood odor was one chemical signal that triggers a behavior in honey bees to quickly find and remove sick brood from the colony.
This is called hygienic behavior and beekeepers can select for these traits in their bee breeding programs by testing their bees. That's where the UbeeO kit comes in. Many beekeepers find these traits desirable because highly hygienic colonies can better withstand varroa infestation and related diseases.
Over the years, PAm put additional funding towards this work totaling six awards, $178,280, that allowed the research to progress between other larger grants.
The UBeeO hygienic testing kit contains the unhealthy brood odor in a sprayable form. To measure the hygienic behavior of a colony all a beekeeper has to do is spray a small patch of capped brood with UBeeO and come back two hours later to measure how many cells have been uncapped in response to the “sick” pupae.
This method of testing has several advantages that might be attractive to beekeepers as compared to other methods like the freeze-killed brood assay which uses liquid nitrogen to kill a patch of brood.
Optera reports that the colonies undergoing the UbeeO test will often recap the brood and it will finish developing normally-meaning there a minimal impact on the colony while allowing the beekeeper to gain valuable information in a short amount of time.
UbeeO is also a quicker test to perform than the freeze killed brood assay. Beekeepers return to the colony two hours after spraying the brood instead of 24 hours after freezing with liquid nitrogen.
With more beekeepers becoming interested in breeding healthier bees and armed with a tool like UBeeO it's not impossible to imagine that the overall bee stock in the U.S. could become more resilient.
U.S. beekeepers aren't the only ones who can benefit from this technology. We learned during Phoebe Snyder’s talk at the expo that Optera is already working with Australian beekeepers who are just now beginning to experience the impacts of varroa mites. Australian bees are completely unused to varroa, and so Optera is helping Australian beekeepers begin to assess and select for more hygienic bees.
A new product in the marketplace for beekeepers shows the power of focus, clarity, and determination in seeing practical research through to the desired outcome.
Project Apis m. relies on beekeepers to see the value in our investment in research and the pipeline of new tools for beekeepers. If you believe in the work we fund, please consider supporting us today!