Saturday, September 21, 2013

Collecting Bees for the York University Genomic Study

Dr. Amro Zayed, PhD; Department of Biology, York University, and his students are conducting a study of the genetics of Canadian Honeybees. They hope to collect one thousand worker bee specimens from across Canada and analyze the data the data in regards to genetic diversity and ancestry. The study is funded by the Canadian Honey Council and will be submitted to a peer reviewed journal, and the results posted to the Honey Council's website.

A call for bees has been issued. Participating beekeepers will be mailed a collection package with instructions and a prepaid envelope for return.

I recently collected worker bees from my hives and sent them off to the study.

Collecting the bees was an adventure. Firstly, being a known scaredy-cat, I had to devise a way to collect the samples using a hive tool whilst wearing bee gloves I had to devise a new method of collection as I was standing there staring at the hives, holding a hive tool and wearing bee gloves. Of primary importance was the avoidance of contact between my fingers and any insect with a working stinger. Unfortunately drone bees were too fat to fit in the vial, but in any event they were ineligible for participation in the study.

What is one to do in such a situation? What do I normally use to collect small things while avoiding direct contact? A fork! No, no, better scratch that idea. DNA is to be extracted at the lab, not the hive. Forceps! No, no, I would have to invent a reason to visit my doctor, and she might notice them missing after the appointment anyway. Tweezers! No, no, too narrow. Chopsticks! Hmm...might be on to something. But how to avoid fumbling? I require fine control. Children's Chopsticks! (you know, the kind of chopsticks joined together at the top) ... and I just happen to have a pair in a drawer somewhere.

On to the next problem. How does one get something from a large space into a small space (like a collection vial), when that something is moving and completely adverse to such a procedure? A funnel and a push-rod! (See chopstick, above, for push-rod).

A funnel into a vial. What a great combination. All I need is some way to join those two great ideas. I know...Scotch Tape!

Into the kitchen, for supplies. Back to the hive carrying two kinds of chopsticks, a funnel, scotch tape. But no bee gloves. Chin up, scaredy-cat!

It would be a perfect system, if the collection samples couldn't fly away after being placed in the funnel. Or wouldn't simply grasp the chopstick and ride it like the drop-tower at Six Flags. But I digress.

Four bees in nine minutes. Should I reconsider my plan to switch careers and become a lab assistant or inventor?

Actually, the collection went just fine. One hive was pretty quick, with the other I fumbled around a bit. Once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy to pickup the bee, place it in the funnel, and tap it into the vial.

Other beekeepers are staring blankly at me after simply grasping a bee with their fingers and placing it in the vial, but I digress.


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