Skip to content

BARD 40 Year Review

Case Study 15: Bumblebees for Crop Pollination: Social Behavior

Principal Investigators: US: Gene Robinson (University of Illinois); IS: Avraham Hefetz (Tel Aviv University)

Goal: To understand the colony development, social behavior and reproduction of the Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumblebee) and to implement the findings of the basic research into successful rearing of the B. Terrestris for industrial crop pollination.

Activities: The key biological functions of the B. Terrestris with respect to colony growth and social behavior; e.g. worker bee reproduction regulation, queen dominance and development from larvae to adult were investigated.

Outcomes: The understanding of the biology and social behavior of the B. Terrestris paved the way to facilitate colony manipulation for year-round and specific pollination requirements. Israel was the fourth country (after Belgium, Holland and Canada) to commercially use bumblebees for tomato pollination. It leads to higher fruit quality and increased total yield, reduces costs in comparison to manual labor, and necessitates reduction in pesticides application. Today, commercial greenhouse tomatoes are pollinated worldwide by bumblebees, including most European countries, North America, Chile, several Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and China, and also Turkey.

Economic Benefit: The contribution of the project to crop pollination is indirect and difficult to estimate. Therefore, we did not attribute any monetary benefit to BARD.

Capacity Building: 3 postgraduates and a number of graduate students were involved in the research. Currently, 2 are in academia, 1 in the US and 1 in Israel; another 1 established a bumblebee rearing and research facility.

Read the full case study.

Case Study 16: Creation of a Transient Expression Vector for Citrus: An Effective Immunity against Citrus Greening

Principal Investigators: US: William Dawson (University of Florida); IS: Moshe Bar-Joseph (Agricultural Research Organization, Volcani Center)

Goal: To manipulate the Citrus tristeza virus (CTV) genome for transient expression of foreign genes in citrus trees.

Activities: A manipulatable genetic system with the full-length cDNA copy of the CTV genome was created. The most successful CTV vectors were shown to be unusually stable and suitable for long-lived woody trees. The CTV expression vector was used to test efficacy of antimicrobial peptides against citrus greening.

Outcomes: The IP was licensed to Southern Gardens Citrus who are using the CTV vector to express one or more spinach defensin genes that have been shown to induce resistance to citrus greening. Efficacy trials were conducted over 10 years in which young citrus trees were inoculated with CTV. A regulatory permit is currently being evaluated by the USDA. The CTV expression vector is at the core of 7 USDA research projects.

Economic Benefit: As the USDA APHIS multisite permit for use of the CTV vector with the defensin gene is still pending, we did not calculate any benefits to this project yet. However, Florida’s citrus industry has been devastated by citrus greening, with damage costs estimated at $658 million annually and the potential benefits of using the CTV vector to lessen the impacts of the disease could be immense. 

Capacity Building: 11 postgraduates were involved in the research supported by the 4 BARD awards between 1994 and 2006. Currently, 8 are in academia in Israel, the US, Spain and Uruguay. 1 established a biotech company, 1 is in the biological industry in Russia and 1 is in government service in Israel.

Read the full case study.