Perspectives of multi-modal contribution of honeybee resources to our life


  • doi: 10.1111/j.1748-5967.2008.00170.x

Masami Sasaki, Division of Bioresource Science, School of Agriculture, Tamagawa University, Machida, Tokyo, 194-8610 Japan. Email:


The European honeybee, Apis mellifera, has been introduced to all continents and their products like honey, propolis, royal jelly and beeswax are well known. However, its contribution is not restricted to such direct products but extends into a much wider area. For example, the economic value of seed production by pollination exceeds the above-mentioned bee products. The application of F1 hybrid is increased to as much as 70% of commercial crops and flowers in Japan and honeybees are important pollinators in the F1 seed production. Incorporation into the large-scale biodiesel fuel production system by culturing rape and sunflower seeds etc. is relied on because it is good to construct possible zero-emission systems that reduce carbon dioxide and increase the rich by-products like honey and royal jelly.

Bees’ higher brain function and sophisticated social system of the colony opens new perspectives as a model system. Their individual ability to recognize even abstract concepts is comparable to that of higher primates. Rats or mice have no such ability. High performance learning ability of bees associated with proboscis extension reflex can be used to detect drugs at the airport. Function of the colony, on the other hand, is an excellent model for social physiology or a self-organization system.

After the whole genome of A. mellifera was read in 2006 by the world consortium, consisting of more than 90 institutions from all over the world, many molecular biologists are coming into bee world. Nobody has yet succeeded in the challenge to make transgenic honeybee, so far, because of the difficulty in controlling the reproductive system headed by the queen. However, if someone succeeded in a breakthrough we will have stingless honeybees and a disease-resistant strain in the future.