Conservation Genomics Pinpoint Pesticides and Pathogens in Decline of Bumblebees

July 13, 2021 | Bumblebees exposed to pesticides and pathogens display changes in gene expression that can be pinpointed and analyzed by cutting edge research tools, according to scientists at York University, who utilized the new technique in a study published in Molecular Ecology. This form of next- generation gene sequencing is part of a growing field of science known as conservation genomics, in which entire animal genomes are sequenced to determine conservation problems. “Next-generation sequencing is a totally new way to think about why bees are declining, which could revolutionize conservation biology,” says study coauthor Amro Zayed, PhD, associate professor in biology at York. “We’re looking directly at bee tissues to try and get clues to the stressors that are affecting this bee. I think this is a gamechanger for sure. With a single study, we are able to implicate a couple of really obvious things we’ve talked about for years— pathogens and pesticides—in the case of Bombus terricola.” The gene analysis was conducted, and able to qualify nearly 9,500 gene expressions in bumblebee guts. Researchers discovered 61 differentially expressed genes, including those involved in detoxification, as well as those associated with neuro- degenerative disorders and immune response. Bumblebees display gene expressions that are associated with exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides, fipronil, and a range of pathogens, including deformed wing virus and sacbrood virus. [Tsvetkov, Nadejda et al. Conservation genomics reveals pesticide and pathogen exposure in the declining bumble bee Bombus terricola, Molecular Ecology. June 2021.]