The fermentation of pollen is one of the miracles of the hive. The details are astounding. Our curiosity into the subject led us to perform a kitchen table experiment that is detailed in our paper No Bee is an Island.
As we continue to learn, we want to update the document, but have not had time to do the job justice. Below is a small clarification/update that was posted to Bee-L in November, 2008:
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 2008 05:44:12 GMT
Reply-To: Informed Discussion of Beekeeping Issues and Bee Biology
Subject: Re: healthier colonies
we see where we got things wrong in "No Bee Is An Island". it isn't that the pollen grain needs to ferment in order to just "pop open"...it is the progression of many fermentation processes, each setting the stage for the next, that produces necessary substances for the other microbes, and for the bees. think of the fermentation of pollen as a tree rotting in the forest...there is a progression of bugs living underneath it, a few tunneling inside, molds and fungi, sow bugs, centipedes.....
the exact makeup of this culture of microorganisms is a heritable thing...perhaps more so than the genetics of the bees, and perhaps more important. antibiotics, pesticides, and other treatments that disrupt the microbial balance (which seems to include sugar as a winter feed) will, over time, erode the diversity and functionality of this culture.
the key (regardless of cell size) is not so much to breed a varroa (or nosema) resistant bee, but to allow the bees to build up their microbial culture without interference. keeping the bees alive long enough for this to happen is the trick....and perhaps that's what sc has to offer...perhaps it's a red herring, but we are both convinced that the microbes are the key. we think that sc might well give a head start (our experience suggests this).
it may be that in some areas, some of the essential microbes have become extinct and/or rare due to the impacts of varroa, tracheal mite, and beekeeper practices...perhaps this points to why some have success and other failure. it's more than likely that these microbial cultures have some things in common, and some are localized.