Determination of Genes Involved in Hygienic Behavior in the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera

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Chopp, Laura; Northrup, Eric A.
Genetics; Other Animal Sciences
artifact description
Honeybees are an integral part of the agricultural industry, especially in the Midwestern United States. Honeybees serve as pollinators of crops, an invaluable job of honeybees, as well as producers of honey. Diseases that kill members of the colony threaten honeybee colonies, and there are few options available to treat these diseases. Some honeybees exhibit a behavior—termed hygienic behavior—in which the bees clean out diseased brood from the hive, thus conferring a natural resistance to three diseases of bees: American foulbrood, chalkbrood, and varroa mite. However, it is not found in all colonies and only a certain number of honeybees contain this behavior in a given colony. This desirable behavior can be traced to genetics—meaning hygienic honeybees exhibit this behavior partly due to information they carry in their DNA (genetic material). We have undertaken a large genetic screen in cooperation with Dr. Marla Spivak of the Entomology department at the University of Minnesota. We have identified differences between genes in brains from hygienic honeybees vs. non-hygienic honeybees using a technique called microarray, and are now validating these differences using a secondary biochemical technique. Identifying specific genes that allow these bees to protect their colonies is a critical step towards implementing this behavior in unprotected honeybee colonies.