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Progress in marker-assisted selection for honey bee breeding

Pernal SF, Hoover SE, Currie RW, Guarna MM, Bixby M, Zayed A, Foster LJ (2017) Progress in marker-assisted selection for honey bee breeding. American Bee Research Conference, 12-13 Jan 2017, Galveston, TX. Bee World 93(4): 117.


Most economically desirable traits in honey bees show considerable levels of heritability and thus can be improved via artificial selection. Indeed, cross-based genetic analyses have identified broad regions of the honey bee genome (quantitative trait loci or QTLs) that causally affect aggression, hygienic behaviour, and several aspects of worker foraging behaviour. Although previous honey bee QTL studies have demonstrated the strong genetic basis of many economically desirable traits, they have not been successful at providing stable and robust markers for assisted selection. The honey bee’s high recombination rate necessitates new approaches for identifying markers for selective breeding. Our team developed a novel approach to marker identification, notably the discovery of protein expression patterns that were highly correlated with the specific behavioural traits. We identified 9 putative biomarkers for hygienic behaviour (HB), isolated from the antennae of nurse bees, that survived stringent control for multiple hypothesis testing (Guarna et al., 2015, BMC Genomics 16:63 ). These proteins were further determined to be involved in semiochemical sensing, nerve signal transmission or signal decay. Our data suggested that protein expression patterns were heritable and could be used to selectively breed bees to enrich HB. We then used a panel of protein expression biomarkers to successively test, select and breed several hundred colonies over three generations across western Canada, in a direct comparison of proteomic-based marker-assisted selection versus traditional behaviorally-based phenotypic selection on HB. Selected stock was shown to have improved resistance to American foulbrood disease, improved overwintering survival with Varroa destructor infestations as well as favourable economic performance. Based on the success of HB trait enrichment using protein expression biomarkers, we are currently embarking on a large-scale study to combine proteomics and genome-wide association as these have the greatest potential for identifying highly discriminant markers for bee breeding. Full genome sequencing has the ability to leverage the bee’s high recombination rate for identifying single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s) that are casually linked to a trait of interest. Progress in identifying proteomic and SNP markers for twelve economically desirable traits, measured in 1,000 colonies across Canada, will be reviewed along with implications for improved methods for trait selection in honey bees.

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