1. COLOSS project
Ricola Foundation supports the COLOSS project

The Ricola Foundation supports COLOSS (prevention of honeybee COlony LOSSes), an international network dedicated to researching and containing global honey bee colony losses. The Ricola Foundation helps COLOSS to continue to develop and maintain its global network of research institutions, universities and apiarists. The project’s home base is the Institute of Bee Health, which is part of the University of Bern’s Vetsuisse Faculty. COLOSS was founded in November 2008 using EU funding and currently has more than 1000 employees from over 90 countries (www.coloss.org).

Background to the project: Approximately one-third of food available to humans around the world is directly dependent on pollination by honey bees. The honey bee is also a primary pollinator for wild plants. The dramatic loss of honey bee colonies is endangering humanity’s basic natural food sources and threatening natural biodiversity. The COLOSS project was conceived in 2008 to systematically study the causes of bee mortality and develop measures to adequately protect the bees. COLOSS is a scientific network that coordinates research and efforts to record the scope of the losses around the world, with the aim of understanding why global honey bee colonies are in sharp decline.

2. Columbia project
This project provides the Puinave and Curripaco tribes in the Amazon region with sustainable economic alternatives in the form of extracting honey from stingless bees. The aim is to show these tribes how to use the forest in a sustainable manner, with the result that these practices become established within their communities and wider culture. The project also seeks to impart knowledge about the biology of these endangered wild bees in order to afford them a greater level of protection.

On July 2, 2014, Professor Alexandra Torres from Columbia signed a partnership agreement with Ricola in Basel, which sets out measures to be taken in the next few years.

3. Norway project
The Ricola Foundation is supporting a project focusing on Norwegian honey bee colonies, which have been able to survive exposure to the Varroa destructor mite without any form of treatment for more than 10 years now. The project seeks to shed light on why these Norwegian honey bees are able to survive the mite infection. Researchers in Norway are conducting experiments to determine the exact mechanisms required for the honey bee colonies to survive.

The results expected from the research could be of great benefit to apiarists.

More information about the project is available at:
Norwegian University of Life Sciences – www.nmbu.no
Norwegian Beekeepers Association – www.norbi.no/engelsk.cfm
University of Bern – www.bees.unibe.ch

4. Varroa ring test project
The Ricola Foundation is financing a large-scale European ring test focusing on the mite Varroa destructor.

This parasitic mite represents the greatest threat to the survival of the European honey bee population. Despite the efforts of breeders for more than 20 years, honey bee colonies have continued to fall victim to the mites when no treatment is provided. Despite this, honey bee colonies in three European populations – in Ås/Kløfta (Norway), Avignon (France), and Uppsala (Sweden); indicated in red – have been able to survive without treatment for more than ten years now.

This large-scale ring test – which involves seven institutions – will determine whether these bees are able to survive without treatment against the mite when transported to a new location. If the bees are able to survive without treatment in their new surroundings as well, this means their resistance is the result of strong genetic factors that may be used for future breeding efforts. If the transported bee colonies are not able to survive independently, this will indicate that apiarists should use local bees for their breeding programs.

More information about the project is available at:

“The incredible influence that light has over the hardware of life: how light can reprogram genes within just a few hours”

Dr. Célia Baroux, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Dr. Fredy Barneche, IBENS Paris, France

The life of a plant starts with germination. For the first couple of days, the seedling lives in the dark until it grows enough to push through the soil and encounter light for the first time. This is when the plant’s life changes completely. Light activates a powerful process known as photosynthesis, which produces energy and oxygen. This facilitates the production of nutrients, which enables the seedling to grow, flower, and produce seeds. Once the seedling has pushed its way through the soil, the light is able to reprogram the core entity (its ‘hardware’) within just a few hours. Thousands of genes are either reactivated or deactivated in a highly coordinated manner, leading to new cellular functions and an altered physiology. For many years, researchers have been looking into how such enormous changes are able to happen so quickly. A collaborative project between Dr. Célia Baroux (University of Zurich, Switzerland) and Dr. Fredy Barneche (IBENS Paris, France) has now published initial results. Up to now, very little research had been conducted into a protein in the cell nucleus called histone H1, which reacts directly to light. Using other proteins that measure light (quality and specificity of light sources), histone H1 is able to have an immediate impact on how chromosomes and genes are organized. The protein has a huge influence on how the genes are organized in the cell nucleus – it is comparable to that of a conductor standing before an orchestra. Our aim is to decode the mechanism by which histone H1 affects the distribution and activity of its target genes. We are also looking into the role played by light receptors in the cell nucleus, which interact with the protein histone H1. This research is set to provide key insights into how to reprogram essential seedling functions. We are using state-of-the-art technology for the study, including high-resolution microscopes, and employing molecular methods to determine the methylation of the genes (its epigenetic profile). Methylation affects a gene’s activity status, which can be studied by looking at expression profiles. This innovative study is of great importance to the field of biology and is relevant to our understanding of the life of a plant – a life characterized by adaptation and resilience.