Collecting a library of bee genomes
The USDA Agricultural Research Service is leading a project called “Beenome100” to create high-quality maps of the genomes of at least 100 bee species, recording the diversity of bees in the United States, representing each of the major taxonomic bee groups in this country.
There are approximately 4,000 native bee species in this country, from the giant, colorful Sonoran bumblebee to the 0.08-inch solitary bee Perdita minimums† There are also more than 55 non-native bee species, some of which are essential to agriculture, such as the European honey bee and the alfalfa leaf cutter.
“A goal of Beenome100 is to create a library of high-quality, highly detailed genome maps that will help researchers answer the big questions, such as which genetic differences make some bee species more vulnerable to climate change or whether a bee species is more likely to be susceptible to a pesticide,” explains entomologist Jay Evans of the ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and co-leader of the project.
Once a genome has been mapped, the data becomes publicly available for scientists to work on the next step: linking functions to specific genes. The data is housed in the “i5k Workspace@NAL,” an online “toolshed” at ARS’s National Agricultural Library, enabling scientists from many organizations to collaborate on bioinformatics.
There are many reasons why having these genomic maps covering the taxonomic diversity of bees are useful tools, added entomologist Michael Branstetter of the ARS Pollinating Insect-Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah. Branstetter recently returned from a bee-collecting trip in southern Arizona, bringing back as many as 80 species that have been frozen, some of which will be given their genome sequence to be part of the Beenome100 library.
“It can be difficult to identify bees in the field, especially the small ones. When endangered bee species are present, we have to be careful about collecting too many individuals in our efforts to survey for them, and this risk is likely to increase Branstetter said. “But with their genome documented, flowers could potentially be wiped out for the DNA of bees that have visited, and this information could be used to non-destructively track species.”
One species on which this is being tried is the Franklin’s bumblebee, which has not been seen for a decade in its small range in southern Oregon and northern California. The genome was mapped from museum specimens. If the system works and matching bee DNA is found in a swab from a flower, that would be documented evidence for finding a particular bee like this without taking a specimen from the wild.
In the bigger picture, the bee genomes will help to better understand how bees as a whole fit into the world and how they vary and change with their environment, from the evolution of specialization between bee species and particular flowers to the impact of non-native bee species. .
“Take the endangered Mojave poppy, a quarter-inch-long desert bee native to parts of Utah, Nevada, and California, where it is a very important specialized pollinator of the endangered Las Vegas bear poppy and the dwarf bear claw poppy. And it belongs to one taxonomic family that has never been sequenced for genomics,” Branstetter said.
He hopes that more knowledge about his genes will clarify the genetic basis for this specialist trait and how it evolved.
On this most recent collection trip in Arizona, Branstetter was particularly looking for an unusual type of bee to add to the Beenome library: parasitic cuckoo bees, a group of solitary bee species that reproduce by laying their eggs in other bee nests.
Parasitic cuckoo bees are said to be quite rare.
“We didn’t find just one or two, they were plentiful. We found specimens of parasitic bees of three different sexes,” he said.
That’s arguably the most important information coming out of the Beenome100 project, Branstetter said, “Information that will teach us more about which bees we really have in our environment and how we can better protect the bees we have.”
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i5k Workspace@NAL: i5k.nal.usda.gov/
Quote: Collection of a library of bee genomes (2022, June 22) retrieved June 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-library-bee-genomes.html
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