Tap Bee Genome Map for Improved Traits
By Jan Suszkiw
February 3, 2004
WASHINGTON, February 3,
2004--Breeding a better honey bee is the goal of
U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists
who are using recently created genomic data to speed their search for disease
resistance and other traits.
Scientists with USDA's Agricultural
Research Service are exploiting an initial draft of the honey bee genome
announced earlier this month by the Baylor
College of Medicine and U.S. National
Institutes of Health, which co-funded the mapping project with ARS.
The scientists' aim is to secure the honey bee's role as the chief insect
pollinator of more than 90 different crops, including almonds, blueberries,
melons and alfalfa. Determining the position and order of genes residing on the
insect's DNA--about one tenth the size of the human genome--provides bee
researchers with a shortcut to traits that can otherwise be difficult to
"This research puts the honey bee center stage as the first
agricultural animal that's been fully sequenced," said Joseph Jen, USDA
Undersecretary for Research, Education
and Economics. "As an organism whose social order rivals our own in
many ways, the honey bee will serve as a natural system for further
agricultural studies, including such areas as social behavior, cognition and
immune system function."
ARS researchers Katherine Aronstein at Weslaco, Texas, and Jay Evans at
Beltsville, Md., two co-authors of the proposal to sequence honey bees, are
especially interested in defining the responses of bees to a range of diseases.
Their long-term goal is to characterize genes that are key in the honey bee
immune response, then use data from these genes to improve both bee breeding
ARS also conducts bee research at its
Carl Hayden Bee Research Center
at Tucson, Ariz., and its
Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit at Baton Rouge, La., which
also is involved in studies of the germplasm and genetics of honey bees.
Enhanced knowledge of the honey bee genome will be of value to all aspects of
the agency's bee research.
"Currently, we know of a handful of honey bee genes that are activated
in response to disease," said Kevin Hackett, who leads the ARS National
Program for Bees and Pollination. "We're also now discovering how the
products of these genes are involved with keeping bees healthy."
According to Hackett, other possible research avenues include identifying
genetic markers to expedite bee breeding efforts, preserving honey bee
germplasm and fine-tuning the honey bee's nutrition and pollination
effectiveness, such as through genome-driven studies of the bee's sense of
More information about the honey bee genome project is available at:
ARS is USDA's chief in-house scientific research agency.