Importing Frozen Honeybee Sperm Is Key To Conservation

Brandon Hopkins, Washington State University entomology research associate and lab manager of the WSU Apiary Program, stores bee sperm samples in a liquid nitrogen tank. (Photo credit: WSU)
Brandon Hopkins, Washington State University entomology research associate and lab manager of the WSU Apiary Program, stores bee sperm samples in a liquid nitrogen tank. (Photo credit: WSU)

Going through customs can be frustrating for travelers. Imagine going through with a container of frozen bee sperm.

“It’s certainly a challenge,” said Brandon Hopkins, Washington State University entomology research associate and lab manager of the WSU Apiary Program. “Most customs agents aren’t used to seeing that, so it takes a lot of explaining.”

It’s complicated by the fact that WSU has the only permit issued by USDA to import honeybee semen into the U.S.

Honeybees are not native to North or South America, and importing into the U.S. has been tightly restricted since the 1920s. As a result, U.S. honeybees have limited genetic diversity.

“We’re importing germplasm from Old World populations around Europe to increase genetic diversity here,” Hopkins said. “The goal is to improve commercial breeding for bees so they can better fight off diseases and parasites.

“Everything we do in this effort is to ensure bees survive to pollinate our food sources,” he said.

Hopkins and other WSU entomologists have collected genetic material in Italy, Slovenia, the Republic of Georgia, and Kazakhstan since they received a USDA permit to import honeybee semen in 2008.

WSU scientists also transport fresh sperm, but its shelf life is only about two weeks. Hopkins developed a method for freezing the material as part of his master’s degree at Eastern Washington University, and he refined it further when he came to WSU to earn his Ph.D.

“Cryogenic freezing has been used to preserve germplasm from animals like cattle for decades,” he said. “I adapted it for honeybees. Right now we are the only repository for bee germplasm in the world.”

The importation process starts with a trip to collect material overseas. Once WSU scientists arrive in a country, they work with local beekeepers or government agencies equivalent to the USDA to visit a variety of hives.

They collect mature male bees, called drones, and then extract semen. Each male produces about one microliter. For comparison, a single drop of water is approximately 100 microliters.

“We try to collect hundreds of microliters of sperm every day we’re there, so those are long days,” Hopkins said.

The semen is frozen in the origin country because freezing fresh material yields the best results. A special substance is added to avoid damaging the cells during freezing. Once back at WSU, the samples are stored at -196°C (-320°F) in a tank of liquid nitrogen.

Theoretically, the sperm can stay viable at that temperature for 10,000 years or more, Hopkins said. It can then be thawed out and used to breed honeybees here.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

Production Stories
Fruits
October 5, 2017
Environmental Monitoring Helps With Food Safety Modernization Act
Monitoring may be most effective way to meet the preventative controls component of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Read More
Fruits
October 3, 2017
Bill Introduced to Crack Down on Fake Organic Product Imports
Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act seeks stricter enforcement of imports, modernization of documentation. Read More
honeybees
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Leafy Vegetables
October 2, 2017
Yuma Growers Embrace Precision Production
The arid climate and a labor shortage have fostered fertile ground for high-tech growing methods. Read More
Citrus
September 26, 2017
Rise of Agricultural Automation Drives Innovative Event
The International Forum of Agricultural Robots aims to provide links to farming’s future. Read More
Fruits
September 26, 2017
Organic Product Sales Soaring
In 2016, U.S. farms produced and sold $7.6 billion in certified organic commodities, according to data released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Read More
Berries
September 12, 2017
How to Match Drip Irrigation to Improve Berry Water Management
Using root mass diameter to appropriately determine wetting pattern will help you improve growth rate and yields. Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Improving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
Though very much-needed, technological solutions must be cost-effective and industry appropriate. Read More
Production
September 6, 2017
Companion Crops Lower Inputs and Increase Yields, Study Shows
An age-old production method often associated with Native Americans has been validated by study results from the Texas A&M AgriLife Read More
Insect Control
September 6, 2017
Vegetable Pest Populations Can Soar in High Tunnels, Study Shows
High tunnels alone are not enough to control pest populations, the study shows. To control pest levels, growers need to take other steps that allow ventilation while screening crops, and supporting natural predators. Read More
Fruits
September 5, 2017
Organic Fruit Sales Surge 12%
Organic vegetable sales rose 6%, as consumer demand is still going strong. Read More
Production
August 30, 2017
Houweling’s Tomatoes Grows Produce with Mastery Under Glass
Houweling’s Tomatoes exceeds industry standards for locally grown produce while pioneering innovative technologies that improve sustainability. Read More
Citrus
August 23, 2017
Varroa Mite Researchers Talk High Infestations in Bee Colonies
In 2016, The New York State Beekeeper Tech Team (which is attached to Cornell University’s Dyce Lab Beekeeping Resources) found that Read More
fine-tuning an orange
Citrus
August 18, 2017
How Florida Growers are Fine-Tuning Citrus Fertility
Some are tweaking nutrition programs to focus on root health along with foliar applications. Read More
Citrus
August 17, 2017
How Wicked Will Winter 2018 Be in the U.S.?
The 200th edition of the Farmers’ Almanac reveals wide-ranging weather patterns and events that would require everything from shovels to shorts. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Leafy Vegetables
October 2, 2017
Yuma Growers Embrace Precision Productio…
The arid climate and a labor shortage have fostered fertile ground for high-tech growing methods. Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Improving Water Management: Can Silicon …
Though very much-needed, technological solutions must be cost-effective and industry appropriate. Read More
Production
September 6, 2017
Companion Crops Lower Inputs and Increas…
An age-old production method often associated with Native Americans has been validated by study results from the Texas A&M AgriLife Read More
Insect Control
September 6, 2017
Vegetable Pest Populations Can Soar in H…
High tunnels alone are not enough to control pest populations, the study shows. To control pest levels, growers need to take other steps that allow ventilation while screening crops, and supporting natural predators. Read More
Production
August 30, 2017
Houweling’s Tomatoes Grows Produce with …
Houweling’s Tomatoes exceeds industry standards for locally grown produce while pioneering innovative technologies that improve sustainability. Read More
Citrus
August 23, 2017
Varroa Mite Researchers Talk High Infest…
In 2016, The New York State Beekeeper Tech Team (which is attached to Cornell University’s Dyce Lab Beekeeping Resources) found that Read More
Production
August 9, 2017
Greenhouse Vegetable Production Systems …
From fully automated deepwater culture to vertical growing systems, growers and manufacturers weigh in on tools for producing top-quality vegetables and greens. Read More
Crop Protection
August 2, 2017
Report: 90% of NY Beehives Had Varroa Mi…
Cornell University's NYS Beekeeper Tech Team recent report also shows most hives are infected with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), a disease linked to the mites. Read More
Organic
July 19, 2017
4 Challenges Large Operations Face in Or…
Organic vegetable production in Monterey County has evolved over the past 25 years. It was once the domain of small- Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Orga…
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
Fruits
July 9, 2017
USDA Invests $6.8 Million for Pollinator…
Projects focus on colony losses, pollinator habitats, and increase pollinator populations. Read More
Citrus
July 5, 2017
Give Tech Companies the Expertise They L…
One problem with many agricultural technology start up companies is that no one on staff has a farming background. That's easy enough to fix. Volunteer your expertise. Read More
Citrus
July 5, 2017
Want Labor-Saving Harvest Equipment? Col…
Innovation and technology start with growers working with their peers and manufacturers. Read More
Irrigation
June 28, 2017
Robert Sakata Talks About Water
The Colorado grower discusses how water issues have changed which crops they grow where, and raises the idea of leasing water rights during droughts replacing crop income. Read More
Citrus
June 21, 2017
Study Suggests Modern Beekeeping Gives V…
Parasite has adapted, thrived with colonies in modern hives. Read More
More Vegetables
June 21, 2017
Variety Specs | Production Tips: Pumpkin…
Each month, American Vegetable Grower® will offer growing tips on specific varieties, supplied by the breeder or distributor. This month, Read More