For decades, scientists have vehemently debated the origin of the western honey bee. Today, new research from York University has discovered that these popular honey-producing bees are likely native to Asia.
From there, the western bee (Apis mellifera) spread independently in Africa and Europe, creating seven geographically and genetically distinct evolutionary lineages, dating back to West Asia.
The western honey bee is used for crop pollination and honey production in most parts of the world, and has a remarkable ability to survive in very different environments – from tropical rainforests to arid environments and temperate regions with cold winters. It is native to Africa, Europe and Asia, and it is recently believed to be native to Africa.
The research team sequenced 251 genomes from 18 subspecies of the honey bee’s native range and used this data to reconstruct the origin and dispersal pattern of honey bees. The team found that an Asian origin – possibly West Asia – was strongly supported by genetic data.
âAs one of the most important pollinators in the world, knowing the origin of the western honey bee is essential to understand its evolution, genetics and how it has adapted over time. spread, âsays corresponding author Professor Amro Zayed of York University’s Faculty of Science.
The study also points out that the bee genome has several “hot spots” that have allowed honey bees to adapt to new geographic areas. While the bee genome has over 12,000 genes, only 145 of them had repeated adaptation signatures associated with the formation of all of the major honey bee lineages found today.
âOur research suggests that a basic set of genes allowed the honey bee to adapt to a diverse set of environmental conditions in its natural range by regulating worker and colony behavior,â said Kathleen Dogantzis, a doctoral student at York University in the Faculty of Science, who led the research.
This adaptation has also enabled the development of some 27 different subspecies of honey bees.
âIt is important to understand how locally adapted subspecies and colony-level selection on worker bees contribute to the fitness and diversity of managed colonies,â says Dogantzis.
The sequencing of these bees also led to the discovery of two distinct lineages, one in Egypt and the other in Madagascar.
The researchers hope their study finally asks the question of where the western honey bee came from so that future research can further explore how they have adapted to different climates and geographies.