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Genes May Tell a Lot About the Secret Lives of BeesBy Alfredo Flores
January 3, 2007
Despite the fact that bees are one of the most beneficial insects in the world, much of their behavior remains a mystery--even to the apiculturists who tend them. To better understand such fundamental processes as reproduction, and cope with problems such as bee mites and diseases, scientists are at work on a state-of-the-art genomics resource.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Jay Evans and colleagues at ARS' Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., are working with National Institutes of Health (NIH) collaborators on what's called the Honey Bee Genome Project. Since the unveiling of the bee's entire genome in early 2005, the project has proved to be a significant new source of information about genes suspected of involvement with various honey bee traits.
Using quantitative genetic approaches and gene knockdown and expression studies, the Beltsville scientists are assessing the functions of various candidate genes. So far, some 150 honey bee genes have been selected for analysis by Evans and his team. The team is currently developing databases to manage the new wealth of information that is coming in.
One of the databases, called "BeeBase" and funded by NIH, is a dedicated analysis-and-display environment for the honey bee genome that's headed by scientists at Texas A&M University. BeeBase also gives users the genome sequences for two key honey bee pathogens, Paenibacillus larvae and Ascosphaera apis—both genomic projects led by ARS.
Honey bees pollinate about 130 fruit, vegetable, nut, ornamental and fiber crops in the United States and contribute approximately $15 billion annually to the national economy through improved crop yields and product quality.
More information about this research is published in the current issue of Agricultural Research magazine.