The World's Only Sperm Bank For Bees Is Here In The Northwest

Sep 30, 2017

 


Brandon Hopkins was on track to become a high school biology teacher when he was invited by one of his professors at Washington State University to work in a lab with honey bees.

“Yeah, I bought every kind of itch cream they sold in the store  because my hands were swollen and itching from all the bee stings and I soaked my hands in ice every night and questioned my decision making,” recalls Hopkins.

So, there are sperm banks for people. Repositories for this necessary ingredient to create life also exists for farm animals:cattle, pigs, sheep, ext. Well, there is also one for bees.  

 

Male honey bees, also known as drones, have sperm.Today, Hopkins is an Assistant Research Professor at Washington State University. He runs the “germ-plasim bank”- the world’s only sperm bank for bees. One of the reasons why Hopkins ended up in this position is because he is the person who figured out how to successfully freeze bee sperm.

Native Bee populations all over the world are in decline. Brandon travels to places such as Italy, Algeria and  France to collect bee sperm and add it to the collection in Pullman where it’s frozen and preserved.

Extracting sperm from drones, male honeybees, is a life ending event.

“You kind of squeeze the head and thorax of the bee and then pull back on the abdomen a little bit. And that causes the endo-falis, for your scientific listeners out there, or the penis, to pop out.Then at the tip of that is a small ball of mucus and floating on that is a micro liter of semen,” says Brandon.   

Mating with a queen also results in death. Brandon says, “If you want to get anthropomorphic about it, it’s one of the better ways to go in nature.”

In this interview with Gabriel Spitzer, Brandon Hopkins explains why it is so important to preserve specific genetic strains of these insects, and how they intersect with our everyday lives in ways we often do not think about.