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Honey bee genomics

The honey bee genome sequence was published in 2006 as a result of research funded and pioneered in the US. This has created an unprecedented opportunity to understand the genetic mechanisms underlying the susceptibility of honey bees to diseases such as varroa. At the same time, there is increasing interest in the honey bee as a model for fundamental studies. The evolution of sociality in A. mellifera, its developmental plasticity and sophisticated cognitive behaviours, make it a fascinating organism in its own right but also a model for other social species.

In research paid for by the University of Warwick Research Development Fund, we developed a honey bee oligonucleotide ‘multipack’ microarray, which allows us to quantify patterns of gene expression in honey bees following infection by parasites or other treatments.

We are currently using the array with our Rothamsted partners to investigate why different behavioural groups of honey bees (foragers and hive bees) are not equally susceptible to a fungal pathogen. This work complements a BBSRC Phd studentship (Rothamsted – Warwick) that investigates the effects of parasitic diseases on bee behaviour.

In future, we envisage significant opportunities to use genomics tools such as the microarray to characterise the honey bee immune system, to determine the molecular mechanisms by which pathogens infect and kill bees, and to understand the interactions between varroa and bee viruses.

We plan to combine this genomics approach with further behavioural work to understand how diseases affect bee foraging and learning, and to investigate the importance of genetic diversity within the UK honey bee population in resisting parasitic diseases.

Selected references:

CHANDLER, D., SUNDERLAND, K. D., BALL, B.V. & DAVIDSON, G. D. (2001). Prospective biological control agents of Varroa destructor n. sp., an important pest of the European honeybee, Apis mellifera. Biocontrol Science and Technology, 11, 429 - 448.

SHAW, K. E., DAVIDSON, G., CLARK, S. J., BALL, B. V., PELL, J. K., CHANDLER, D. & SUNDERLAND, K. (2002). Laboratory bioassays to assess the pathogenicity of Mitosporic fungi to Varroa destructor (sp. nov) (Acari: Mesostigmata), an ectoparasitic mite of the honeybee, Apis mellifera L. Biological Control 24, 266 - 276.


Bee mycosis

Honey bee infected by a fungal pathogen used as a lab model



Microarray showing honey bee gene expression response to infection