To help combat declining bee populations, Canadian researchers have been granted funding to study the genetic makeup of honeybees, to identify the markers of 12 economically-desired traits that the important insects have; then, they plan to use that knowledge to breed a genetically-superior bee, one designed to survive harsh Canadian winters.

Over the winter in Canada, one in four honeybees succumb to the cold, prompting beekeepers to import new bees, typically ones from warmer climates. These bees still have the same vulnerability to the cold as the ones they’ve replaced, and wind up following the same cycle the following winter. While the continued replacement of the bees increases costs, it also contributes to other problems as well, such as the transport of diseases from one region to another.

The scientists, from York University and University of British Columbia, have received $7.3 million to conduct this research. They expect the data collected from the study will help in identifying poor health in bee colonies through their genetic makeup, rather than having to rely on lengthy observations of the insects’ behavior. They also expect to be able to develop tests that would be able to weed out bees with undesirable traits, such as Africanized genetics. This data is also expected to aid beekeepers in breeding a heartier bee, with better resistances to environmental factors such as disease and cold weather.

York University’s Amro Zayed said, “It is very clear that we have to develop innovative solutions for bee health because bee declines will have serious consequences for Canada’s economy and food security.”