In an effort to assist the beleaguered bee population in the UK, SureScreen Scientifics, a UK science firm, is employing DNA technology to unravel the mysteries of bee behavior and potentially discover new species.
Located in Morley, SureScreen Scientifics is the first commercial firm in the UK to utilize DNA analysis for identifying individual bee species, as well as wasps and hornets, using samples such as carcasses, pupae, and nest materials.
Bees, including the beloved bumblebees, honeybees, and approximately 250 species of solitary bees, have been severely affected by factors such as farming, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat over the years.
Understanding and monitoring the bee population relies on ecologists’ ability to locate and identify individual insects. However, the identification of certain species can be challenging, and in cases where no carcasses are available, identification becomes impossible.
DNA analysis plays a vital role by allowing scientists to work not only with live insects but also with materials found in their nests, such as old pupae or larvae that did not mature into bees. This approach is also applicable to wasps and hornets, which provide important insights into the ecological health of the UK. For instance, the invasive Asian Hornet, known for preying on honeybee colonies, poses a significant threat.
SureScreen Scientifics has previously employed DNA and environmental DNA analysis to study various species, including Great Crested Newts, White-Clawed Crayfish, and bats. In a notable achievement, the company successfully identified two bee species, the Largeheaded Resin Bee and the Orange-vented Mason Bee, from pupae remnants found in a wooden block that had been used as a nest.
The process involves breaking down a sample, such as a bee’s leg or a section of its pupae, and extracting the DNA material contained within. This DNA is then purified and subjected to a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), amplifying the genetic material for sequencing. The resulting species-specific DNA sequence is then cross-referenced with other bee DNA sequences in an international database for accurate identification.
Chelsea Warner, a lab technician at SureScreen Scientifics and a passionate bumblebee enthusiast, is at the forefront of the company’s work in insect DNA analysis. She believes that this technology will greatly enhance ecologists’ understanding of bee behavior, distribution, and survival in the wild, potentially uncovering new, undiscovered species.
Chelsea, who conducted bee research during her Masters degree in conservation biology at the University of Derby and volunteers with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, highlighted the reliability and advantages of DNA analysis for species identification, including the ability to detect evidence of bees’ presence in the wild even without physical specimens.
Excitingly, when analyzing specimen material from a wooden block, Chelsea and her team were pleasantly surprised to not only obtain enough DNA material but also prove the existence of two previously unknown bee species.
While SureScreen Scientifics currently focuses on analyzing water samples to detect the presence of Great Crested Newts, the company is eager to receive unidentified bee, wasp, or hornet carcasses, as well as other biological materials, to shed more light on their populations and well-being.
Chelsea expressed her enthusiasm for future bee, wasp, and hornet material analysis, emphasizing the power and excitement of DNA technology. As she continues to work with bees, she has gained a deeper appreciation for their significance. Bees, despite their adorable appearance, play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance.
By utilizing DNA technology to understand how humans can support bees and potentially discover new species, SureScreen Scientifics aims to contribute significantly to environmental conservation.
SureScreen Scientifics also provides materials consultancy and testing services for manufacturing and the automotive supply chain. Additionally, their Neo Vos brand offers at-home gut and nutritional health test kits, which are analyzed to provide personalized recommendations.