The varroa mite (visible on
the bee, above) is a major threat to our honeybees. In Nature magazine
ARS scientists discuss the bee's genomic sequence and how to to better combat
bee mites and bee diseases. Click the image for more information about
Finding Out How Genes Govern Bees' Lives
Flores October 25, 2006
Efforts by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators to sequence
the honeybee genome are paying off, as researchers are learning more about how
the honeybee's genes protect it against disease and control its behavior, among
Spearheaded by ARS scientists since 2003, the sequencing project is
sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Human Genome Research Institute at
the National Institutes of Health, in
cooperation with the Baylor College of
Medicine in Houston, Texas. The latest findings in the sequencing effort
are reported in today's edition of Nature.
Sequencing the honeybee genome gives researchers an invaluable tool
for better understanding this essential pollinator of many of the world's
Evans, an entomologist at the ARS
Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., has been working on the project along with a
number of Beltsville colleagues, including entomologist
Chen, geneticist Anita Collins, research associate Laura Decanini and
Lopez. Other ARS cooperators are molecular biologist
Aronstein from the ARS
Bee Research Unit in Weslaco, Texas, and
Hackett, the ARS national program leader for research on bees and
With the genomic sequence of the honeybee, Apis mellifera, in
hand, the team will be looking at how better bee-breeding and management
practices might help bees fend off diseases such as American foulbrood,
chalkbrood and mites, as well as produce bees with high honey production,
pollination efficiency and winter hardiness.
The researchers think that by crossing bees from different genetic
lines across the United States, they will be able to determine which genes help
certain crossbred offspring survive longer than others when exposed to disease
agents. They will test the disease resistance of offspring from their
experimental crosses in a controlled environment, then use the results to guide
breeding programs at the ARS
Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Lab in Baton Rouge, La.
The ARS bee research team also has been using the genome to
investigate bee management practices, honeybee nutrition and the production of
healthy worker bees.
ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.