I have just returned from visiting the INRA (L’Institute National del la Recherche Agronomique) honey bee laboratory near Paris at Bures-sur-Yvette. At this moment, the bee research facility there is undergoing huge change. How this will finally affect French beekeeping is unknown, but in order to try to put some perspective on it, I am writing this letter.
It was in a small town on the outskirts of Paris by the Yvette River that the visionary insect physiologist, Professor Remy Chauvin, became the first director of the INRA laboratory known as Bures-sur-Yvette. In 1946, French beekeeping could only be described as rustic, according to Mr. F. Jéanne, President of OPIDA, writing in Bulletin Technique Apicole (Vol. 23, pp. 56-7, 1996). The creation of the laboratory, however, under the direction of Professor Chauvin would help greatly change the activity in the years to come. The research at the station was to have far reaching affects, and the results can be consulted today in the literature. They include pioneering work on wax secretion (R. Darchen), defensive behavior (J. Lecompte), social behavior (P. Lavie), pollen collection (J. Louveaux) and queen-worker relationships (J. Pain). The latter work was to result in identification of one of the first insect pheromones, now called “queen substance. Presently, there continues to be work published in transgenic rape and other topics.
The Bures team, according to Mr. Jéanne, in parallel with their work also began practical outreaches to bekeeping. In the 1960s, as French agriculture underwent changes, a satellite laboratory was created near Avignon at Montfavet. The disappearance of traditional crops of sainfoin and sarasin (buckwheat) and replacement by colza (rape) on a more intensive basis provided more challenges to the bee researcher. Another laboratory created under the Bures influence, Mr. Jéanne says, was that involved with bee diseases in the southwest of France at Sabres. These laboratories have also collaborated with others at INRA and elsewhere, including researchers at the INRA Lusignan station concentrating on leafcutter bees and now onBombus rearing.
The Bures team also helped Mr. Jéanne establish the Office Pour l’Information et la Documentation en Apiculture (OPIDA) which publishes the Bulletin Technique Apicole (BTA); this publication appears to have become the replacement for Annales de l’Abeille, created in 1958 and published by INRA. The Annales and the BTA have a distinguished history of over thirty years of outreach to French and European beekeeping. Currently a host of other French journals is also published.
Too much cannot be said about the long-reaching effects of the work begun at Bures-sur-Yvette over the last 50 years. This was the conclusion of Mr. Jéanne’s article which closed with a quotation from J. Louveaux, who took over directorship of the Bures team in 1961 through 1983: “Apiculture has problems that are difficult to resolve. Solutions depend on communication between researchers and beekeepers. Modern laboratory work more and more needs to be translated into the language of the non-specialist. That it simply is done and published is not enough. It will be do neither the research nor beekeeping community any good if there exists a separation between the researchers and those who ultimately will benefit from their work.” (my translation).
When I visited the Bures site, however, I was told there is simply not enough funding to keep the facility going as it has in the past. This is part of INRA’s challenge to respond to modern French society and world competition in agriculture. It is a huge organization approaching the size of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, employing 2000 researchers in 22 agricultural centers with a budget of 3 billion FF (US 5.19 million), according to. the April 7 issue of AGRA Presse published by the Agroeconomic Information Agency, Paris-Bruxelles. This is double the budget of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the article neatly details what it calls a “cultural revolution” now ongoing at INRA.
The current director of the Bures facility, Dr. Claudine Masson, says the bee program is not dead. However, the present bee researchers at Bures-sur-Yvette are being moved to a new laboratory inside Paris. And the focus of their work, though interesting using the honey bee as a test organism to study insect neurobiology, appears to be much more fundamental in nature than envisioned by those originally working on the Bures team. Fortunately, the bee library, with its legacy of fifty years of work, under the careful guidance of C. Courant who has been there since the 1970s, will continue to be housed in the facility. Nevertheless, for the moment, the legacy of Professor Chauvin at the Bures-sur-Yvette facility seems to be in danger of being drastically altered, if not totally relegated to history’s dustbin.
Further information on the Bures facility which provides a welcome note to the thoughts above concerning the fate of that laboratory:
From: INTERNET:firstname.lastname@example.org, INTERNET:email@example.com
TO: Malcolm (Tom) Sanford, 74333,357
DATE: 8/11/97 9:24 AM
RE: Lab in Bures
Dear Dr Sanford,
I have been aware by my colleague Bernard Vaissiere about your report on your visit of Bee labs in France, especially Avignon and Bures.
I am very sorry that we did not meet when you came to Bures, and Christiane Courant told me that you met her, but she did not know that you were preparing a presentation of the lab. It seems that the people you met only gave a partial view of the future of the lab. If you don’t mind, I would like to complete this view, as being in charge of the INRA group working on beneficial insects, including bees :
As you were told, In 1980-1981, a new group joined Bures with Claudine Masson, who became the head of the lab (becoming an associated INRA-CNRS lab) in 1985, after Jean Louveaux. I started my PhD with C. Masson in 1981, working on honeybee- plant (sunflower at that time) interactions. Since then, I have mainly developed studies on the honeybee behaviour, especially olfactory learning and complex plant odor recognition. Recently, this program have been applied to the evaluation of the impact of transgenic plants (pest resistant oilseed rape) on pollinators. During the last five years, these studies were conducted in parallel to those directed by Claudine Masson on the neural bases of olfaction in the honeybee, with Claudine Masson being the head of the lab.
From the begining of 1997, two groups were identified in the lab by the Direction of our Institute (INRA), one CNRS group directed by C. Masson, the other being an INRA group directed by myself. Until the end of 1997, both groups will remain together in Bures, with C. Masson being the head of the lab until then. In 1998, the group of C. Masson will leave to a new lab in Paris, while we shall stay in Bures, under my direction. The opportunity for our group to join INRA labs in Versailles within a few years is currently in discussion. However, either in Bures or Versailles, we shall go on working on the chemical ecology of plant-honeybee interation, behaviour and learning.
Our group currently involves, as people with permanent positions : two scientists (including myself)
five engineers (respectively specialized in palynology, nectar analyses, bee keeping, documentation)
In addition, I am supervising four PhD students, and two postdoc scientists working on contracts.
Our group have strong connections with the other french groups working in the honeybee field (especially Avignon), and we are currently coordinating an EU Biotech Program on the Evaluation of the Impact of transgenic Plants on Beneficial insects.
I apologize for this long presentation, but I consider as important that our foreign colleagues, especially in the States, are aware of the fact the that the bee work in Bures will stay alive!
Many thanks in advance for taking these informations under consideration, and please do not hesitate to contact me for any additional question.
Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Comparee des Invertebres
INRA, BP 23, 91440 Bures-sur-Yvette, France
Tel 01 69 29 87 68
Fax 01 69 07 50 54