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Scientists Sequence the Genomes of 2 Important Pollinating Bumblebees

First Posted: Apr 27, 2015 08:06 AM EDT

Bees play huge roles in the world's food supply as pollinators. Now, scientists have sequenced the genomes of two important pollinating bumblebees and compared them with those of other bees.

In this latest study, the scientists examined the gnomes of the European buff-tailed bumblebee and the North American common eastern bumblebee. The research focused on identifying similarities and differences between these transatlantic cousins. In all, the researchers used bees from Thurgau, Switzerland and Michigan, USA. The researchers also compared these bees with their more distant relatives, the honeybees.

In all, there are over 250 bumblebee species globally. These insects perform the important task of pollinating flowers in both wild and agricultural settings. Living in colonies of tens to hundreds of related individuals, these creatures have a level of social organization that's impressive.

"Bumblebees are intriguing creatures to study," said Ben Sadd, one of the researchers, in a news release. "But growing threats to their health are affecting bee populations around the world, making it especially critical to improve our understanding of their biology."

The newly sequenced genomes actually provide the first ever insights into the genetics between the differences in bee behaviors and responses to their environments.

"The catalogue of genes involved in immune defense responses is well conserved among different bee species regardless of their level of social organization," said Robert Waterhouse, one of the researchers. "But it is much smaller than in solitary insects such as flies and mosquitoes that often live in more pathogen-rich environments."

The findings reveal a bit more about these bees. This, in turn, may help researchers better understand which diseases will most likely impact these insects. As bee populations decline, it's increasingly important to find out risk factors for these bees.

The findings are published in the journal Genome Biology.

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