Centre for Integrative Bee Research
The Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER) is located on the Crawley campus at the University of Western Australia in Perth. CIBER conducts basic scientific research into honeybee reproduction, immunity and ecology and aligns its work with the needs of industrial and governmental partners. CIBER is specifically dedicated to facilitate interdisciplinary research and offers opportunities for scientists to perform collaborative research on honeybees using methods and approaches from systems biology and evolutionary ecology. The ultimate goal is to better understand how individual molecules and their interplay are responsible for complex biological process such as sexual reproduction or immunity. Research conducted at CIBER is done in close collaboration with the local beekeeping industry, notably the Better Bees of Western Australia bee breeding program. The research group consists of 20–30 researchers from all different academic levels as well as representatives from the governmental and honeybee industry sector. The research group also runs an outreach program and was involved in the making of the theatrical movie More than Honey.
Reports about dramatic declines in a number of global honeybee populations, especially in commercially managed stock, resulted in an inquiry of the Australian Parliament into the future of the Australian honey bee industry. A house standing committee on Primary Industries and Resources finally published a report on 16 June 2008 that summarised the situation of the honeybee industry in Australia. Among a large number of recommendations, the report identified an urgent need for more research to address existing and future problems of Australian honeybees, the bee industry and recommended a substantial increase in funding for honeybee research. The need for additional and coordinated research into honeybees stimulated in a number of initiatives from Australian researchers and research institutions. However, it became clear that the geographical isolation of Western Australia and the ban to import bees or some bee products into the state requires the buildup of a specific research hub. CIBER was formally set up as the Collaborative Initiative for Bee Research at the University of Western Australia in 2008 and was renamed in 2011 to Centre for Integrative Bee Research. The name change coincided with the introduction of a new logo, that is currently still in use.
The interdisciplinary approach is one of the core characteristics of CIBER’s activities, which run along two different gradients: First, CIBER connects several disciplines of research including the molecular and nano sciences, evolutionary biology, and sociobiology, as well as economics. Second, CIBER bridges fundamental and applied sciences by generating new knowledge in areas of practical interest for honeybee industry partners. CIBER uses a number of modern molecular technologies such as genomics and proteomics to identify molecules involved in physiological processes such as reproduction or immunity. Research conducted at CIBER pioneered a novel scientific field in research known as evolutionary proteomics. The central idea is to understand how evolutionary processes operate on the molecular level. Researchers at CIBER conducted the first large scale analyses of the proteins present in glandular secretions supporting honeybee sperm, such as seminal fluid and spermathecal fluid.
For experimental work, CIBER maintains and breeds its own bee stock of around 60 colonies, kept at an apiary on the campus of the University of Western Australia. During the winter month, most of the bee stock is moved north to overwintering grounds.
CIBER personnel is represented in a number of National boards and councils to provide expertise and advice on issues about honeybees, for example the RIRDC Honeybee Advisory Board, the Primary Producers Committee or the Asian Honeybee Transition to Management Scientific Advisory group.
Collaboration with the honeybee industry
A number of research projects are done in collaboration with local beekeepers. To do this, CIBER received funding in 2009 from the Australian Research Council to conduct research on male honeybee fertility together with Better Bees of Western Australia as an industry partner. Better Bees of Western Australia is a group of 8 commercial beekeepers. Each individual beekeeper owns and maintains some of the 24 bee lineages that are recognized as part of "The Western Australian Bee Breeding Program". The aim of the honey bee breeding program is to maintain a genetic pool of honey bee breeding stock for the WA apiary industry to use in maintaining a healthy population of managed honeybees. In 2013 CIBER and Better Bees received a second grant from the Australian Research Council to study the fungal disease Nosema and its interactions with the honeybee immune system.
The research and activities of CIBER are communicated to the broader public through an outreach program, which includes the organisation of public lectures and seminars, the showing of bees to the public and in schools and exhibitions, as well as activities during the yearly honeybee week. In 2011, CIBER and the Perth based museum SciTech organised an exhibition "The Science of Honeybees", which initially ran for 6 months at SciTech, then toured through schools and libraries in Western Australia. The success of the exhibition insipired plans for a permanent CIBER - Honeybee exhibition at SciTech, which was scheduled to open in 2013. CIBER also maintains its own facebook page, which allows interested users to follow ongoing activities at CIBER as well as get updated information on honeybees in general. CIBER is also involved in organisation of the yearly Honey Week, which is held annually in May. Honey week is an Australia-wide initiative to showcase bees and beekeeping to the public. The outreach activities of CIBER were awarded with the Premier's Science Award of Western Australia in 2014, acknowledging its success in raising community awareness about the importance of honeybees in the environment.
More than Honey movie
CIBER was involved in the making of the theatrical documentary More than Honey by Swiss film maker Markus Imhoof, which was released into several European movie theatres in 2012. The group provided scientific advisory for the film, and some of the research conducted at CIBER is featured in the film. The movie had its world premiere on 11 August 2012, concluding the Locarno film festival in Switzerland and was later on shown at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 2012. The documentary was the most successful Swiss film of 2012 and is the most successful Swiss documentary movie of all time. The movie was awarded more than 25 international prizes such as the German and Swiss Film Awards for best documentary, and became the Swiss candidate for a nomination in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards (Oscar) . CIBER actively promoted screenings of the movie in Australia as part of the German Film Festival and maintains the official English and German blog of the movie.
Future Bees Fund
For fund raising purposes and in order to finance activities such as bee research, beekeeping and outreach activities, CIBER set up the Future Bees Fund in 2013, which is a non-profit fund located at the University of Western Australia. A board consisting of representatives from research and the bee keeping industry decides on the usage of funds available and to help publicise the fund activities.
- House of Representatives, Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources. "More Than Honey: The future of the Australian honey bee and pollination industries". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
- The homepage of CIBER at the University of Western Australia
- The Facebook page of CIBER
- The "More than Honey" blog maintained by the group
- Official Website of the More than Honey movie (In German)