USDA leads Beenome100 project to map bee genomes
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Services is leading a project called “Beenome100” to produce high-quality maps of the genomes of at least 100 bee species.
The project will capture the diversity of bees in the United States and represent each of the major taxonomic groups of bees in that country.
According to a press release, there are approximately “4,000 species of bees native to this country, from the giant, colorful Sonoran bumblebee to the 0.08-inch solitary bee. Minimum loss. There are also over 55 non-native summer species, some of which are essential for agriculture, such as the European honey bee and the alfalfa leafcutter bee.
Once a genome is mapped, the data becomes publicly available for scientists to work on the next step: linking functions to specific genes. The data is hosted in the “[email protected] Workspace,“an online “toolbox” at the National Agricultural Library of the ARS, which allows scientists from many organizations to work cooperatively on bioinformatics.
There are many reasons why these genomic maps covering the taxonomic diversity of bees are useful tools, added entomologist Dr. Michael Branstetter with the ARS Pollinating Insects-Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah. Dr. Branstetter recently returned from a bee-collecting trip to southern Arizona, bringing back up to 80 species that have been frozen, some of which will have their genomes sequenced to become part of the Beenome100 library.
“It can be difficult to identify bees in the field, especially small species. When endangered bee species are present, we must be careful about collecting too many individuals. in our efforts to study them, and that risk is likely increasing,” Dr. Branstetter said. “But with their genome documented, the flowers can be sampled for DNA from bees that have visited, and that information could be used to monitor species non-destructively.”
One of the species being tested is Franklin’s bumble bee, which has not been seen in a decade in its small range in southern Oregon and northern California. Its genome has been mapped from museum specimens. If the system works and the matching bee DNA is found in a flower swab, that would be documented evidence of finding a particular bee like this without taking a specimen from the wild.
Taken together, 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 bee, a quarter-inch-long desert bee native to parts of Utah, Nevada, and California, where it is a very important specialized pollinator of the Mojave poppy. “endangered Las Vegas bear and dwarf bear-claw poppy. And it belongs to a taxonomic family that has never been sequenced for genomics,” Dr. Branstetter said.
He hopes that knowing more about his genes will clarify the genetic basis of this specialized trait and how it evolved.
On this last collecting trip to Arizona, Dr. Branstetter was particularly on the lookout 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 the nests of other bees.
Parasitic cuckoo bees are said to be rather rare.
“We only found one or two, they were abundant. We found specimens of parasitic bees from three different genera,” he said.
This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of information to come from the Beenome100 project, said Dr Branstetter, “Information that will tell us more about the bees we actually have in our environment and how best to keep the bees we have.”