Garden blogs

From eight to (nearly) eight hundred: an update on honey sampling from around the UK

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At the Garden we’ve been looking at the foraging habits of honey bees – what they like to eat. Using the Garden as a study site gives us a unique opportunity to use our own hives, within a landscape that offers both a horticultural feast and the native habitat of our National Nature Reserve Waun Las to feed on.

While you might be familiar with our Garden apiary with its observation deck allowing you to see the honey bees flying to and from the hives, we actually have two apiaries that I sample honey from. Our second apiary is right on the edge of our estate by our farm cottage where our Science Interns live during their year placement. This honey sampling from the Garden gives us a close range study of our honey bees but we were interested to get a broader picture by opening this up to beekeepers across the UK and asking for honey samples. And they were keen to help with over 700 samples of honey sent in, from all over the nation.

My current work is processing all of these honey samples. Extracting the DNA from each honey sample is a very careful task, carried out under sterile conditions in our labs at the Garden. The first stage is to get the pollen out of the honey – this is where we get the plant DNA from, allowing us to identify it down the line. I do this by spinning down the honey in a high-speed centrifuge. I then need to get the DNA out of the pollen, while getting rid of all of things we don’t want in our sample, which for honey includes any sugar!

So far I’ve been able to do this process with max eight samples at a time, so with more than 700 I’ve got to upscale my production line, hopefully with the help of some of our other Science students. Once all of the honey is extracted I can go on to the next stages of the lab work, before finally preparing for a DNA sequencing run. We can run 96 samples at once on the sequencer. The individual results from beekeepers will be sent back, and all together this will help paint a picture of honey bee foraging in the UK.

If you would like to support this work and other projects looking at providing food for our pollinators: please visit our JustGiving, Help Save Our Pollinators!