Facchini / Rizzi

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Elena Facchini graduated in Veterinary Biotechnology Science with the highest honours at University of Milano in October 2015. She worked at the Parasitology Laboratory of the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health of the University of Milan as an intern student and wrote her dissertation thesis on the gene expression analysis of relevant targets for hygienic behaviour and docility in Apis mellifera. In 2013 she graduated in Biomolecular Sciences and Technology at University of Trento. During her bachelors studies she worked as an intern student at the Edmund Mach Foundation (TN), writing a thesis on the qualitative and quantitative detection of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) in Apis mellifera. Her principal interests are honeybees from apiculture to laboratory, from a biotechnology point of view.

Rita Rizzi is Associate Professor in Animal Science and Statistics at the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Milan, Italy. She has been the unit leader of a funded national project (PRIN-MIUR 2006) and the person in charge of scientific aspects in a FP7 project (LowInputBreeds, project 222623). Her main research fields are quantitative genetics, genetic improvement for productive, reproductive and functional traits in cattle, application of polymorphisms in animal husbandry and major genes, and apiculture.


The Western honeybee represents a highly relevant productive livestock due to both hive products and to its indispensable role as commercial pollinator of many agricultural crops. In addition, honeybees contribute to the pollination of wild flowers, thereby helping the maintenance of natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Beekeeping is an important part of modern agriculture, and recently honey bee health has been raising major concern due to extensive colony mortality in numerous areas of the world. There are several causes for this. One is the loss of forage as a consequence of agricultural intensification, which also affects other bee and wildlife species. Another cause is the increasing relevance of pests and diseases, affecting honeybees.

The aim of the PhD project is to implement an integrated strategy to evaluate expression of natural resistance to pathogens through a combination of genetic and functional tools. A preliminary large scale comparison among a large cohort of families’ predisposition to hygienic behaviour will be performed.
In the honeybee, hygienic behaviour is a heritable phenotype. Indeed, it evolved as behavioural mechanism of resistance to brood pathogens including Paenibacillus larvae (the causative agent of American foulbrood), Ascosphaera apis (the causative agent of chalkbrood), and Varroa destructor (bee parasite and vector of many viruses).
To reach a sufficient number of families, professional honeybee breeders will be involved. Once the phenotypic data will be available, statistical evaluation through mixed models will identify genotypes showing extreme behaviour, which will be analysed in laboratory for biomarker research. Statistical analysis will be performed in order to evaluate the association between the hygienic parameters and molecular profile.
One result will come directly from the phenotypic characterization and will be transferred to breeders in order to establish and maintain the honeybee parental lines every year.
As long term result, the identification of novel biomarkers for hygienic behaviour in honeybees as well as improved measurement techniques could support commercial breeding and disease prevention through marker assisted selection (MAS), thus helping successful breeding programs worldwide.