The Honey Bee and Silkworm Unit was formed by joining the previously existing National Institute for Apiculture (INA) and the Silkworm section of the Experimental Institute of Agricultural Zoology. INA, whose headquarters were in Bologna, was operative since the 1920s but was officially recognised in 1938, after the establishment of a specific Consortium in 1933. The Silkworm section of the Agricultural Zoology Institute was founded in Padova in 1871 with the name “Experimental Silkworm Production Station” by King Vittorio Emanuele II, who followed the suggestion of Luigi Luzzatti, then Minister of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce. The first director of the Silkworm Station was Enrico Verson, who remained at the head of the Station for about fifty years (1871-1919).
The Honey Bee and Silkworm Unit covers all aspects related to apiculture and silkworm breeding. The Honey Bee section focuses on: genetic characterisation of honey bee populations, genetic improvement of the autochthonous Italian honey bee Apis mellifera ligustica, methods of prevention and control of honey bee diseases; analytical methods for characterisation and definition of quality of honey and of other hive products (royal jelly, beeswax, pollen and propolis), including methods for conservation and possible adulterations; increase of pollination efficiency of honey bees and other pollinator insects of interest for agricultural crops. The Silkworm section focuses specifically on the development of modern breeding methods by means of artificial diets, on overcoming seasonal influence and on decreasing production costs. Special attention is placed on maintenance of silkworm and mulberry genetic diversity. The Unit cooperates in the development of innovative natural silk-based industrial products.
CRA-API is involved in projects concerning breeding and selection of Apis mellifera ligustica; characterisation of honey bee and other pollinator insect populations present in the country; characterisation and qualification of honey; food health safety evaluation of hive products; honey bee pathology, establishment of modern analytical methods and of scientific protocols (larval rearing, environmental monitoring with honey bees); research on bee biology; evaluation of toxicity of pesticides on honey bees and other pollinator insects; study of the relationship between bees and GM plants. CRA-API is involved in conservation, valorisation and genetic improvement of silkworm stock and of mulberry cultivars; in the study of the silkworm/mulberry relationship and possibilities of rearing silkworms on an artificial diet; economic and market studies; silkworm pathology; evaluation of alternative mulberry productions (fruits, animal feed, biomass production, farmaceutics); study of the environmental impact of mulberry and its use in the recovery of abandoned marginal or contaminated land. To achieve these aims CRA-API is part of national and international working groups, such as Codex Alimentarius; International Honey Commission, the UNI group for standardisation of analytical methods pertaining to honey, the international network COLOSS (Prevention of honey bee colony losses). CRA-API is currently coordinating several projects: monitoring colony losses and research on the underlying mortality factors (APENET); possibility of using honey bees in detecting explosives (APIBOOM) and is implementing a conservation project for the autochthonous Sicilian bee Apis mellifera siciliana (APESLOW) which is a Slow Food protected race.
CRA – API includes a specialised laboratory which provides a service of chemical analyses of hive products for beekeepers, firms and institutions. CRA – API regularly organises courses and seminars on honey bee related topics. CRA – API is also the institutional holder of 3 professional Registries: Queen Bee Breeders, Sensory analyses Experts and Melissopalinology (pollen content in honey) Experts.
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