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Aug 25, 2014 03:54 PM EDT

Scientists Sequence Honeybees' Genome, Hope to Revamp Conservation Efforts


New research has traced the origins of honeybees back to Asia instead of Africa after sequencing genomes from insects all over the globe.

According to the AFP, the researchers, whose work is published in the journal Nature Genetics, examined the DNA of 140 honeybees from more than a dozen populations in the U.S., Brazil, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The study was meant to look for how they survived various threats to their 300,000-year existence.

"We have used state-of-the-art high-throughput genomics to address these questions, and have identified high levels of genetic diversity in honeybees," study co-author Matthew Webster, a medical biochemistry researcher at Uppsala University, said in a press release. "In contrast to other domestic species, management of honeybees seems to have increased levels of genetic variation by mixing bees from different parts of the world. The findings may also indicate that high levels of inbreeding are not a major cause of global colony losses."

Certain insecticides have plagued bee colonies in recent years and the Varroa mite has also been troublesome in the U.S. and Europe. The researchers hope their work can help conservationists in producing tougher bees in the future.

"We have compared the entire genomes of honeybees from Africa and Europe and identified positions in the genome where they differ," Webster told AFP. " If we could identify these genetic differences we could understand what makes them more resistant."

The globe's warming climate has also been a factor in the development of the honeybee's population.

"The evolutionary tree we constructed from genome sequences does not support an origin in Africa, this gives us new insight into how honeybees spread and became adapted to habitats across the world," Webster said in the release. "Populations in Europe appear to have contracted during ice ages whereas African populations have expanded at those times, suggesting that environmental conditions there were more favorable.

"The study provides new insights into evolution and genetic adaptation, and establishes a framework for investigating the biological mechanisms behind disease resistance and adaptation to climate, knowledge that could be vital for protecting honeybees in a rapidly changing world."

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