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Nosema apis and ceranae

Message from Phil McAnespie, SBA
Associations interested in this project and microscopes please respond to Phil McAnespie.

"Over the last couple of years Chris Connolly at Dundee University has been investigating issues relating to Nosema apis and ceranae. As a consequence of this work, there has been a large number of samples of bees tested in Scotland and found to contain both species. The presence of Nosema ceranae is far greater than that previously envisaged and has the capacity to cause probably greater damage to our bees than the apis species. As a result of this work, Chris has been granted a 'Knowledge transfer' fund to pass on the skills required to identify Nosema ceranae and distinguish it from Nosema apis.

I was contacted by Chris a couple of months ago and on behalf of the SBA, was offered the opportunity of being involved in further research throughout Scotland.  I further contacted Fiona Highet at SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) in Edinburgh and subsequently had discussions with the team there regarding this project.   These discussions have culminated in a small group of SBA members being offered training in microscopy and PCR identification of Nosema samples at SASA with a view to ascertaining the extent of Nosema apis/ceranae in
Scotland and developing the skills to tell the difference. 

A three day initial training course will be conducted at SASA (Edinburgh) by Chris Connolly and the team at SASA, with further 'on the job' training available at SASA.  SASA have very generously offered the use of the facilities and equipment there, free of charge together with the guidance of experts like Fiona and David Kenyon. This is a fantastic offer and is one which I have no doubt will lead to further collaborative work done at SASA involving the SBA.

As part of the SBA involvement I am seeking the assistance of local association members in providing two samples of 30 bees from their colonies, apparently failing/weak colonies in particular.  An empty matchbox will hold about 30 bees.

The first sample of bees will be labelled (see below) and frozen to kill the bees. This sample will be checked later by a local association member for Nosema with the use of a hand held microscope provided by Dundee University (http://www.newtonmicroscopes.com/)  or a local association microscope.  Training will be offered for this if required. This is a very simple examination and can be done with very little training. Nosema positive samples from these tests will be sent to SASA for spore measurement and PCR identification by the group of SBA trainees and results will be reported back to the beekeeper (one of the reasons why labelling is very important).  

The second sample of bees has to be sent alive to the team at SASA for further diagnosis. Live bees are required to test samples for viruses and we hope to screen for several viruses once the initial Nosema screen has been completed. To facilitate this, the matchbox containing the bees can be placed in a freezer for 15-20 minutes whereby the bees will be very subdued.  They can then be placed in a "Butler' type queen cage (or equivalent robust, breathable box), packaged securely and sent to SASA. This will protect the bees in transit.  A very small drop of fondant or candy would help them on their way!!

An important part of the project is the labelling of the samples.  It is important that the two samples can be linked at the lab.  The following details will assist greatly in this matter:

1.  Name, address and contact number of the beekeeper
2.  Postcode of the area where the apiary is situated
3.  Date the samples were taken
4.  Hive number or identifying mark of the colony/s sampled

Ideally we are looking for at least 20 samples from each local association area involved in the project.  More if possible. Obviously some local associations have their own microscopes and will not require the use of the hand held microscope.  As an aside, this can make for an interesting local association evening if members bring along the samples and test them that evening.  Please be assured that the presence of Nosema is not in any way shape or form a criticism of our beekeeping and knowing about its presence can assist the beekeeper in dealing properly with the colony.

I am hoping that the equipment can be sent out very soon and would be delighted to hear from associations who wish to be involved.  Please consider this request favourably as it will not take a great amount of time as far as the beekeepers are concerned and will be an exceedingly good project to be involved in. This will give us a greater appreciation of the spread of the Nosema species and will also pave the way for further research projects.  It is hoped that virus issues will continue to be examined in the future which will give us a greater knowledge of the state of our bees and possibly which types are able to cope better than others.

Please start taking samples right away.  Those which are put in the freezer now can be tested when the equipment is available but the live bees can be sent immediately to:

Fiona Highet
SASA
1 Roddinglaw Road
Edinburgh
EH12 9FJ

Clearly marked "Nosema Sample Survey"

Please put the required information inside the envelope/jiffy bag.

Many thanks

Phil McAnespie