Peace Country home to new bee diagnostic lab

The facility will perform diagnostic tests for beekeepers from across the country, and join the effort to determine the cause of colony collapse disorder

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Anew Peace laboratory is joining in the battle against colony collapse disorder, which has battered the beekeeping industry in recent years.

The National Bee Diagnostic Centre Laboratory opened its doors on April 1, and research underway is pest, pathogen and parasite issues affecting the honeybee sector.

“This is the first of its kind designed and outfitted exclusively for honeybee research,” said Carlos Castillo, the lab’s applied scientist manager.

“This is such an exciting project to be a part of.”

The $1.2-million, 2,000-square-foot facility was funded by Western Economic Diversification and is located at the Beaverlodge Research Farm. It will be operated by Grande Prairie Regional College, which recently restarted a commercial beekeeping certificate program at its Fairview campus.

Samples of brood, adult bees, frames and honey are now being accepted from registered Canadian bee producers on a fee-for-service basis. The lab’s services include nosema spore and varroa mite counts, deformed wing virus, tracheal mite detection, EFB and AFB detection, antibiotic resistance determination, and virus detection. The lab will also create a database on incidence of bacteria, fungi, mites, and viruses that affect honeybees and identify “hot spots” of infestations.

But the biggest issue for beekeepers is colony collapse disorder.

Since 2006, honeybee mortality has been increasing worldwide, with Canadian beekeepers reporting overwintering losses averaging about 30 per cent for the last five years — double previous levels. This has triggered a worldwide search for causes, said Castillo, adding he hopes work at his lab will eventually shed light on whether the losses are due to a surge of pathogens or perhaps environmental factors such as climate change, pollution or pesticides.

Castillo, a native of Peru, completed a four-year international honeybee research project at Simon Fraser University before taking up his new post.

The Peace Country is home to the greatest density of honeybee colonies in the province, and bee research has been ongoing at the federal Beaverlodge Research Farm since 1992.

“This is a national facility (that) will serve not only the local beekeeping industry, but beekeepers throughout Canada,” said Don Gnatiuk, president of Grande Prairie Regional College.

“This opens the door to enormous potential for the future, including applied research in support of industry.”

The lab is expected to perform approximately 1,500 diagnostic services each year for beekeepers and other clients.

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