Genome Published of The Small Hive Beetle, A Major Honey Bee Parasite From the Department of Agriculture December 20, 2018

Small hive beetles in a honey bee colony. Credit: Agricultural Research Service-USDA

Small hive beetles in a honey bee colony. Credit: Agricultural Research Service-USDA

Beekeepers and researchers will welcome the unveiling of the small hive beetle's genome by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their colleagues. The small hive beetle (SHB) is a major parasite problem of honey bees for which there are few effective treatments.

The SHB (Aethina tumida Murray) genome—a genome is the sum total of all an organism's DNA; a gene codes for a single protein to be built—is available at is available at and was recently published in GigaScience.

This information will provide crucial keys that should lead to better, more targeted SHB control methods, including insecticidal treatments and possibly even genetic/breeding solutions.

The SHB has a strong gene-guided system that lets the beetle detoxify many insecticides. Having the genome will allow researchers to gain a more precise understanding of these detoxification genes, so more effective choices for control treatments can be made.

"The big challenge is identifying control methods that will target SHBs but not harm honey bees," said geneticist Jay Evans, who ran the project and is also leader of the ARS Bee Research Laboratory. "One strategy is to look for insecticides that hit pathways in the genome where the SHB has few or no detoxification genes. It would be even better if an insecticide could be identified for which the honey bee has detoxification genes but that the SHB doesn't.

A native of sub-Saharan Africa, the SHB has spread to many other locations, including North America, Europe, Australia, and the Philippines. It was first found in the United States in 1996 and during the summer of 1998, the SHB was blamed for losses of more than 20,000 honey bee colonies in Florida alone.

Today, the SHB has spread throughout the United States. It is a major problem especially for queen breeders and honey production. SHBs eat everything and anything in a bee colony: pollen, brood, honey, dead adult bees and combs) and cause honey to ferment in the process. If the number of SHBs is high enough, adult bees will abscond from the hive.

One avenue to which the SHB genome has already pointed is where to look for clues for how the SHB finds beehives; what pheromones or other smells do SHBs follow to target honey bee colonies.

Although there are about 350,000 beetle species and subspecies, only seven beetle genomes, including the SHB, have been completed and published.

Completing the SHB genome takes on even more importance when you realize that among the SHB's close relatives are the destructive and invasive Asian longhorned beetle along with other sap beetles that are pests of sweet corn, tomatoes, strawberries and other fruit and vegetable crops.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.

Explore further: Study examines insecticide's effects on honey bees

Journal reference: GigaScience

Provided by: US Department of Agriculture

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New ARS Bee Genebank will Preserve Honey Bee Genetic Diversity and Provide Breeding Resources

By Kim Kaplan   January 26, 2016


The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is organizing a national bee genebank as part of the agency's response to ongoing problems facing the country's beekeepers. Average losses of managed honey bee colonies have increased to more than 30 percent per year due to pathogens, pests, parasites, and other pressures including deficient nutrition and sublethal impacts of pesticides. These stresses have threatened the continued business sustainability of commercial beekeepers.

The genebank, which will be located in Fort Collins, Colorado, will help preserve the genetic diversity of honey bees, especially for traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency. It will also provide ARS and other researchers access to resources from which to breed better bees, according to entomologist Robert Danka, with the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Danka is helping shape the bee genebank—the Russian honey bee and Varroa Sensitive Hygiene lines developed at the Baton Rouge lab will be among those conserved first.

To help make the genebank a practical reality, ARS researchers are developing better long-term storage techniques for honey bees, including improving cryopreservation of bee sperm and embryos. Their work will include creating a way to reliably revive frozen embryos and grow them into reproductively viable adults after storage.

Another component needed to create the new genebank is a germplasm species committee, which will decide which species and subspecies to collect and preserve. ARS and Washington State University are working with beekeepers on the next steps for the committee.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about the new genebank in the January 2016 issue of AgResearch.

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Honey Bee Diseases Strike in All Seasons

USDA/ARS  February 5, 2015

Agricultural Research Service scientists have found that two pathogens causing mysterious honey bee ailments are not just a problem in the spring, but might pose a threat year round. Entomologists Ryan Schwarz and Jay Evans at the ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and their colleagues have shown that two species of bacteria, Spiroplasma melliferum and S. apis, are more common than thought and infect honey bees in places as diverse as Brazil and Maryland.

The two bacteria are often lumped together, since both are in the genus Spiroplasma, an intriguing class of bacteria found in some insects, ticks, and plants. S. melliferum was discovered in the late 1970s by ARS researchers who noticed higher mortality rates in bees carrying it. French researchers discovered S. apis a few years later and called it “May disease,” because that’s the month of year when it struck. It made bees “quiver and creep,” left some unable to fly, and in that instance... 



Pollinator Health and the USDA Blog

CATCH THE BUZZ  by Kim Flottum   May 14, 2014

Pollinator Health and the USDA. Who knew they had a blog?

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

You’ve probably heard that the honey bees in this country are in trouble, with about one-third of our managed colonies dying off every winter. Later this week, we will learn how the honey bees survived this winter. With severe weather in a number of areas in the U.S. this winter, a number of us concerned about bees will be closely watching the results.

While scientists continue work to identify all the factors that have lead to honey bee losses, it is clear that there are biological and environmental stresses that have created a complex challenge that will take a complex, multi-faceted approach to solve. Parasites, diseases, pests, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines. To confront this diverse mix of challenges, we require a mix of solutions – the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees.

The parasitic mite Varroa destructor remains the major factor in overwintering colony declines. The varroa mite’s full name is Varroa destructor, and it is perhaps the most aptly named parasite ever to enter this country. An Asian native that arrived here in 1987, Varroa destructor is a modern honey bee plague. The problem is that varroa mites are becoming resistant to the miticides used to control them. And while there are folk remedies and organic treatments, none of those work as well. New treatments are in the pipeline, but another miticide can only be a short-term solution as the cycle of new treatment and new resistance continues.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is looking to the genetics of both the mite and the honey bee for long-term solutions. ARS has put together a program to breed bees that can naturally resist varroa mites. For example, some bees have a propensity for nest cleaning and grooming behaviors, including aggressively kicking varroa-infested pupae out of the hive. The idea is to breed bees specifically to intensify such traits. ARS is also working on improving nation-wide epidemiological monitoring, finding genetic and/or biochemical disruptors and a host of other possibilities to help beekeepers and honey bees fight off varroa.

More important work like this ARS research could be supported by USDA in the future. As part of the current budget, USDA has requested $25 million to establish the Pollinator and Pollinator Health (PPH) Innovation Institute. The PPH would be administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and, with help from stakeholders, would be responsible for addressing the biological, environmental and management issues associated with the wide-spread decline of honey bees and other pollinators in our country. If established, the PPH will support the activities already identified in the joint USDA-Environmental Protection Agency action plan and build on current pollinator research and extension projects.

USDA’s dedicated scientists and researchers are working to help the honey bees. There are other pollinators, and some crops like corn, wheat, rice and even soybeans are mostly wind-pollinated, but the 90 or so crops that managed honey bees pollinate for farmers—berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables—are what add color, taste and texture to our diet. So USDA scientists are working to find a solution to varroa mites and other problems associated with honey bee health, so you continue to enjoy the bounty of US agriculture.

See more at: This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

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The above message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottom,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog.

Cleaning Honeycombs with Ozone

ARS: News & Events   March 2014

Sometimes, even honey bees need help with “housekeeping”—especially when it comes to tidying up their combs once the honey’s been removed. Research by Agricultural Research Service scientists has shown that fumigating combs with ozone gas can eliminate pests and pathogens that threaten honey bee health and productivity. Recent results suggest that ozone fumigation may also help reduce pesticide levels in combs.

The findings stem from a two-part study led by Rosalind James, an entomologist in ARS’s Pollinating Insect—Biology, Management, and Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah. Results from the first part of her team’s study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Economic Entomology, demonstrated that fumigating combs with ozone gas...