Bee symposium broaches barcodes on bugs
International bee experts have converged on Toronto to develop a plan to catalogue all species of the insect across the planet.
According to York biology professor Laurence Packer, who's leading the group's efforts, precisely 19,231 different kinds of bees have been identified. But he thinks there might be another 5,000 or more species out there waiting.
Sadly, he said, some will likely become extinct before researchers can catch them, stick a pin through their bellies and test their DNA.
The bee gang clustering at York is trying to launch a DNA bar-coding campaign to more easily track all the bees in the world. Once their DNA is mapped, the little critters would carry a unique identifier that scientists could access from anywhere in the world.
"The barcode in a grocery store tells you that you're getting Cadbury's milk chocolate rather than some other company's," Packer said. "The barcode on a specimen tells you that this is an important pollinator for blueberries, rather than an important pollinator for apples or canola."
The group is hoping to get funding of $700,000 to complete the task.
He said giving each species a name – and a barcode – would help those developing the technology to use wild bees for specific pollination tasks, especially since so many bees look alike.
"There are places on the planet where people aren't getting enough to eat as a result of insufficient pollination of the crops that they grow," Packer said. "In these places, the knowledge about what bees do is abysmal.
"There are places where farmers think bees that visit their crop are damaging it, rather than actually making the crop possible in the first place."