Experimental Procedures And Manipulations

The transition between field and laboratory procedures is gradual in honeybee research, and often a combination of both is desirable. Honeybees prove unproblematic in both contexts, but a few points have to be kept in mind. As members of a social group, honeybees are greatly affected by their social environment, and individuals readily adjust their life history to environmental conditions (Schulz et al., 1998; Pankiw, 2003). For this reason, experimental handling and stress (including social isolation) ought to be minimized or at least carefully controlled.

Through demographic hive manipulations, introduction of comb, or brood grafting, colonies can be controlled to produce large cohorts of workers, drones, or queens (Atkins et al., 1975). Artificial rearing of brood is also possible in the laboratory, but the described procedures to date are laborious and often produce individuals that do not span a normal phenotypic range. Upon emergence in a temperature- and humidity-controlled incubator, cohorts can be reliably marked for life with enamel paint, numbered color discs, or radio frequency identification tags (Streit et al., 2003). Subsequently, marked bees can be introduced into a natural colony for studying their aging. Bees of older ages can also be transferred (grafted) between colonies, but special precautions have to be taken to avoid allo-recognition and rejection.

Physiological parameters such as hormone or protein titers can be investigated by taking hemolymph samples through the intersegmental membranes in the abdomen at different ages—also during larval and pupal development. Similarly, honeybees can be injected with various substances into the abdomen (e.g., JH: Muller and Hepburn, 1994) or brain (e.g., double-stranded RNA: Farooqui et al., 2004) to study the physiological regulation of aging. These and other handling procedures are greatly facilitated by chilling bees to 8-12°C, keeping in mind that low temperature is a serious stressor (Jones et al., 2004). Different protocols exist for investigating honeybee behavior and cognitive abilities in the laboratory (Scheiner et al., 2004), and large samples, even at advanced ages, can be readily drawn from a single hive. Even though the honeybee does not compare with classic aging models for their genetic resources and versatility, some progress has been made (Robinson et al., 2000; Beye et al., 2002; Amdam et al., 2003b; Kunieda and Kubo, 2004), and selective breeding using artificial insemination is well established (Laidlaw and Page, 1997).

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