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'Mean Gene' Found In Africanized Honey Bees

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A gene that has a large effect on the aggressive stinging behavior in Africanized honey bees -- the so-called "killer bees" -- has been identified by a group of scientists at three institutions.

Greg Hunt, a bee specialist with the Purdue University Department of Entomology and principal investigator on the research project, says finding the mean gene in honey bees "may help us understand what makes Africanized bees so aggressive."

Hunt and colleagues Robert E. Page of the University of California-Davis and Ernesto Guzman-Novoa of Mexico's agricultural research service located the mean gene by measuring the speed and intensity of stinging behavior in 162 colonies of hybrid bees. They then located DNA markers on the chromosomes of the aggressive hybrid bees and compared the genes with those of nonaggressive hybrid bees.

Now that they have mapped the gene in the honey bee genome, the researchers say the next step would be to isolate the gene for further study. "We've found a place on a chromosome where this gene or genes may be, but we hope in time to be able to localize it better," Page says. "Someday we may actually be able to isolate and characterize the gene and find out how the two versions of the gene differ."

Hunt says the finding will lead to markers for the aggressiveness trait. "We are developing specific genetic markers that could predict the probability of queens having the African version of stinging genes so it will be easier for breeders to avoid using these queen bees," he says. "Ultimately it might be possible to clone the gene through map-based cloning so that we can better understand how this gene affects stinging behavior.

"We made a genetic map of the honey bee using the same techniques used in crop genetics, a technique called quantitative trait locus mapping. This process hasn't been used much in insects. But if we have markers for the genes, we can do what the crop geneticists are d
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Contact: Steven Tally
tally@aes.purdue.edu
765-494-9809
Purdue University
27-Mar-1998


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