‘Bee soup’ could help save bees: Study

London: Crushing up bees into a ‘DNA soup’ could help conservationists understand and even reverse the decline of their population, a new study says.

Research shows that collecting wild bees, extracting their DNA and directly reading the DNA of the resultant ‘soup’ could finally make large-scale bee monitoring programmes feasible.

This would allow conservationists to detect where and when bee species are being lost, and importantly, whether conservation interventions are working.

Britain’s National Pollinator Strategy plans a large-scale bee monitoring programme. Traditional monitoring involves pinning individual bees and identifying them under a microscope.

But the number of bees needed to track populations reliably over the whole country makes traditional methods infeasible. This new research shows how the process could become quicker, cheaper and more accurate.

“Wild bees play a key role in pollinating wild plants and cultivated crops – maintaining both biodiversity and food production. They are however threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and disease,” said lead researcher professor Douglas Yu from University of East Anglia.

“Safeguarding wild bee populations and their pollination services is therefore a top priority,” he added.

The research team took samples of bees from different locations in the Chilterns, the Hampshire Downs and Low Weald. A total of 204 bees were extracted, and the resulting soups put through a DNA sequencer.

The scientists then used a computer programme to map the raw DNA reads against the genomes of bee mitochondria, which are found in nearly every animal cell.

Each bee species has a distinct genome, allowing the team to identify which species of bees had been present in each sample. The process did not require taxonomic experts and still proved to be more accurate.

“Insect soup is a sensitive thermometer for the state of nature. And large-scale bee monitoring programmes would really benefit from this type of DNA sequencing,” Yu said.

The study was published in the Methods in Ecology and Evolution journal.