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The Bee Hive
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Bee Health
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Honey Bee Behavioral Genomics
Honey bees are a critical part of agriculture. In our lab, we study the genetics of behavioral traits using genomic techniques. Most of the traits beekeepers are interested in are behavioral, such as the tendency of bees to sting, how prone are they to swarm and abandon the hive, and when the queen stops laying eggs in the fall or starts in the spring. All these traits have a genetic component. We have used DNA markers to make maps of the honey bee genome and to locate genes that influence traits such as stinging and guarding behaviors. Stinging behavior also shows an epigenetic phenomenon � hybrid bees made from crosses between gentle European strains and aggressive African-derived strains sting just as much as the African type if they have an African father (and European mother), but not if they have a European father (and African mother). Since the honey bee genome was sequenced, we are now able to identify candidate genes for different behaviors and are studying paternal effects by measuring allele-specific gene expression.
Genetics of Mite Resistance
Despite talk of colony collapse disorder, surveys indicate that Varroa mites are still the single most deadly factor in colony losses. Studies in the US and Mexico pointed to two behavioral traits as important resistance mechanisms. The USDA Baton Rouge Bee Lab found that some bees can detect the mites when they are inside brood cells and they uncap these cells, which disrupts mite reproduction. This has been called Varroa Sensitive Hygiene or VSH. A study in Mexico showed that some bees are better at grooming mites off of themselves and biting the mites. The bees are fighting back and we want to help! We are working with Indiana beekeepers to select for higher mite-grooming behavior in bees adapted to northern winters. We are also collaborating with the Baton Rouge lab and a colleague in Mexico to map the genes that influence these two behaviors.
Basics of Bee Genetics
Like other bees, ants and wasps, the male honey bee (the drone) comes from an unfertilized egg. Most animals inherit one set of chromosomes from their father and one from their mother. Drones don't have a father. They have only one copy of each of the 16 chromosomes. Male haploidy makes honey bees good subjects for behavioral genetics because the drone transmits the same genes to all of his worker progeny. But each colony has on average 12-15 fathers because the queen mates with many drones and stores the sperm for her lifetime. The construction of the first genetic map of the honey bee showed that they have an extremely high rate of meiotic recombination. This makes them an ideal species for identifying genes based on map position. This led the isolation of the gene responsible for determining sex in the bee, the complementary sex determiner. Individuals that have two different versions (heterozygous) at this gene become females (workers or queens). Individuals that have only one version (homozygous or hemizygous) become drones.
Honey Bee Genomic Web Sites

The Honey Bee EST project

Man swarmed by bees
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