RESEARCH led by a Scots university could help efforts to protect the UK’s native honey bee population by mapping their entire genetic make-up.

The experts at the world-renowned Roslin Institute also analysed the genetic profile of bacteria living inside bees in a bid to shed new light on emerging diseases which could threaten colonies.

Researchers say their findings could help to safeguard native bee populations from the effects of infectious diseases through improved health monitoring.

Minimising the risks to bee colonies is crucial given the vital role they play in helping to pollinate crops and wild plants.

A University of Edinburgh-led team analysed the entire genetic makeup of bee colonies from across the UK and compared them with recently imported bees.

They found that pollinators from some hives in Scotland were genetically very similar to the UK’s native dark honey bee, even though southern European strains have been imported for many years.

The team from the university’s Roslin Institute say this is good news as the UK’s native bees were thought to be endangered.

They suggested this could mean that native bees survive better in cooler climates than their relatives from southern Europe. The team also analysed the genetic makeup of bacteria and other organisms that live inside bees – what is known as the metagenome.

Their findings uncovered organisms which had not been seen before in honey bees and that may be responsible for causing disease.

Hives that are infected with these organisms may also be more susceptible to other infections.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Experts from the university’s School of Biological Sciences and Edinburgh Genomics also contributed to the study.

Dr Tim Regan, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Roslin Institute, said: “We have created a platform that could revolutionise how we

monitor threats to honey bees and maintain their health. The decreasing cost of DNA sequencing could potentially allow this type of analysis to become routine.”

The development comes after the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) earlier this year urged countries to do more to protect bees from a catalogue of dangers, including the effects of climate change, intensive agriculture, pesticides, biodiversity loss and pollution, or risk a sharp drop in food diversity.

Jose Graziano da Silva, the FAO’s director general, said countries had to shift to more pollinator-friendly and sustainable food policies and systems.

He said: “Each one of us has an individual responsibility towards protecting bees and we should all make pollinator-friendly choices.”