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Prospects for molecular markers to guide selective breeding of honey bees

Foster LJ, Guarna MM, Hoover SE, Currie RW, Pernal SF (2016) Prospects for molecular markers to guide selective breeding of honey bees. XXV International Congress of Entomology 2016, 25-30 Sept 2016, Orlando, FL.


Introduction: The western honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) is a critical component of human agriculture through its pollination activities. For years, beekeepers have controlled deadly pathogens such as Paenibacillus larvae, Nosema spp. and Varroa destructor with antibiotics and pesticides but widespread chemical resistance is appearing and most beekeepers would prefer to eliminate or reduce the use of in-hive chemicals. While such treatments will likely still be needed, an alternate management strategy is to identify and select bees with heritable traits that allow them to resist mites and diseases. While do not yet fully understand the mechanisms behind social immunity, we have set out to discover protein markers that correlate with hygienic behaviour (HB), a trait known to confer disease resistance in bees. Methods: We first confirmed that HB can be selectively bred for and then we used quantitative proteomic approaches to correlate protein expression with measured behaviours over 3 years in 2 geographically distinct sites and several hundred bee colonies. Results/Conclusion: We identified 9 putative biomarkers of HB and 4 for other traits that survived stringent control for multiple hypothesis testing. Intriguingly, these proteins were all involved in semiochemical sensing, nerve signal transmission or signal decay. Our data suggest that protein expression patterns are heritable and could be used to selectively breed bees. The proteins correlation with HB supports the hypothesis on the mechanism of this behaviour involving altered sensitivity to semiochemicals released by either infected larvae or the pathogens themselves.

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