story to find out more.
ARS scientists are
using the completed bee genome to help understand bee responses to chalkbrood
disease. Here, worker bees remove the mummified remains of larvae infected by
the chalkbrood fungus. Click the image for more information about
Genome Map Helping Scientists Build a Better
Honeybee By Jan
Suszkiw January 10, 2005
With a map of the honeybee's entire genetic code in hand, Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) scientists are
pursuing new ways to manage the welfare and productivity of this important
After all, humans have a vested interest in Apis mellifera; the
honeybee's pollination of 90-plus kinds of flowering crops each year results in
yield and quality improvements valued at more than $14 billion in the United
States alone. And that's not counting honey, the byproduct of such pollination.
In January, a team led by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas
announced the completion of the first rough draft of the honeybee genome, which
is about one-tenth the length of that for humans.
Aronstein, ARS members on the team, are now using information from the
advance to identify immune system genes that keep honeybees healthy. Their
efforts come at a time when insect pests, parasites and diseases of honeybees
cause an estimated $5 million annually in crop-pollination losses.
Of particular interest to Evans, an entomologist in the ARS
Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., and Aronstein, a molecular
biologist in the ARS
Bee Research Unit in Weslaco, Texas, is characterizing genes involved in
potential resistance to the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, which causes
foulbrood disease in the insect's larvae. One tantalizing lead is abaecin, a
small protein that may be part of a resistance response in some bees to
Mapping the honeybee genome opens up other exciting research avenues
as well: identifying genetic markers to speed breeding of bees, such as for
better winter survival; modeling host-pathogen interactions to better control
honeybee disease organisms; and conducting genome-driven studies to fine-tune
honey bee nutrition and pollination.
For example, by locating honeybees' olfactory genes, researchers may
be able to improve the insect's diet through supplementation or improve its
ability to forage for nectar longer.
about the research in the January issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.