Brock successfully completes his prelims

By , April 1, 2014

Happy to report that Brock Harpur successfully completed his doctoral preliminary exam two weeks ago. Congrats Brock!


Brock contimplates Y?

Our research featured in io9 story!

By , March 7, 2014

Check out Annalee Newitz’s i09 story on our recent research

Population genomics study highlighted by Nature/Middle East

By , February 26, 2014

Happy to announce that a regional portal of the Journal Nature, Nature Middle East, published a Research highlight story on our recent honey bee population genomics study.

New Paper: Population Genomics of the Honey Bee in PNAS

By , February 26, 2014

Hi All,

harpur2014_coverI am very happy to announce the publication of a new paper from the lab, which appeared last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – a top journal in the field.  The study was featured on the cover of PNAS, and received a highlight in the “In This Issue” section of the journal.  Also see York U’s press release on the article.

The article was co-first authored by PhD Candidate Brock Harpur and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Clement Kent, with further contributions from MSc candidate Daria Molodostova, former Research at York undergraduate Jonathan Lebon, and two collaborators from King Saud University, Drs. Abdualziz Alqarni and Ayman Owayss.

The study involved sequencing the genomes of 39 European honey bees (Apis mellifera) from their native range in Africa, Asia, and Europe. We also sequenced the genome of the Asiatic honey bee Apis cerana.  We were able to identify over 12 million mutations in the European honey bee and this allowed us to identify DNA regions that have experienced positive ‘Darwinian’ selection. Positive selection refers to the evolutionary process that increase the frequency of beneficial mutations in a population, because such mutations confer an advantage to the individuals carrying them (e.g. such individuals can survive better, or reproduce more relative to others in the population).

Studying selection in social insects is not straight forward because worker honey bees are effectively sterile – they do not have offspring of their own, so they can only experience positive selection indirectly; mutations that affect a worker’s helping behaviour can only spread through the population if the helping behaviour allows their mother queen to produce more queens and drones (reproductive male bees); this is called kin-selection.  We set out to look for evidence of kin selection by searching for signs of positive selection on genes and proteins that affect worker traits.  We find very strong evidence that genes associated with worker behaviour experience high rates of positive selection. These included Royal Jelly proteins, which are produced in specialized worker glands to feed their sisters. Indeed, the gene for royalactin, the royal jelly that workers feed to young larva to make them queens, shows very high rates of positive selection.

We also found that worker biased proteins (i.e. proteins that are expressed at higher levels in workers relative to queens) experience stronger positive selection than queen-biased proteins.

The y-axis here is Y, a measure of the strength of selection (positive values indicate positive selection). We found that worker biased proteins have higher levels of selection relative to queen biased proteins, as well as proteins that are not differentially expressed between queens and workers (NDEG). Figure reproduced from our PNAS paper

The y-axis here is Y, a measure of the strength of selection (positive values indicate positive selection). We found that worker biased proteins have higher levels of selection relative to queen biased proteins, as well as proteins that are not differentially expressed between queens and workers (NDEG). Figure reproduced from our PNAS paper























Our study shows that workers, through their helping behaviour, play a major role in environmental adaptation in the honey bee.  In other words, ‘survival of the fittest’ in honey bees is essentially survival of the colonies with the best workers!


Webcast of Public RCI Lecture

By , February 26, 2014

Here is the link for the webcast of my public lecture on honey bee genomics and behaviour, delivered 2 weeks ago as part of the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science’s public lecture series.

Around the continent in 30 days.

By , February 26, 2014

… it started with a trip to Edmonton, Alberta, to attend the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists’ annual meeting. We managed to outline the research priorities for Apiculture in Canada over the next few years, and I gave a talk on the genetics of honey bees.

The CAPA brain trust [i am in the middle row, second in from the right]. Edmonton, Alberta, Jan 2014

Then back to Toronto for a week, then off to the Gordon Research Conference on Genes and Behaviour held at Galveston Texas for another week. There i rubbed shoulders with some of my citation heroes and gave a seminar on bee population genomics and behaviour.

Back to Toronto on Friday [after a 12 hour limbo @ Houston Airport], then delivered a public seminar for the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science on Sunday. The talk was a great experience. I also got a kick from seeing my name before the amazing Canadian Astronaut, Colonel Chris Hadfield, who was slated to speak the week after me (he had cancelled earlier, but after the brochure was printed).  I showed my family – i told them that i was speaking before that ‘Guy from Space’ :) I actually feel extremely fortunate to get invited to speak at such a prestigious event, with an amazing line up of speakers, which include York U’s incoming dean of science, Ray Jay!

Amro, then that guy from space!

Amro, then that guy from space!

Then, I left Toronto Sunday night for a much needed mini vacation in the Caribbean over reading break.

That is more than 15,000 KM traveled over 30 days!… i think i am going to hang around Toronto for the next little while.




By , January 7, 2014

Very happy to report that, after months of hard work, we’ve just heard that our study will be published in PNAS – a top science journal. Can’t tell you much about the article now – it is embargoed until published – but it is very very neat in my humble and biased opinion. We had a little mini-celebration with PNAS cake… Yum! :)


Hmmm, 40^3!


[L to R]: Nadia, Alivia, Jen, Daria, Phil, Brock, Lior, Amro

More winter talks!

By , January 2, 2014

One more…

Seminar @ Gordon Research Conferences: Genes & Behavior, Galveston TX, Feb. 9-14, 2014 

Public Lecture @ Royal Canadian Institute for the advancement of science, Toronto, ON, Feb. 16 2014

Departmental Seminar @ Brock University’s Department of Biological Sciences, March 14th, 2014.

Dr. Alivia Dey joins the lab!

By , December 3, 2013

I would like to welcome our new Postdoc Dr. Alivia Dey to the lab. Alivia obtained her PhD from the University of Toronto where she studied the population genetics of Caenorhabditis with Dr Asher Cutter. Check out Alivia’s recent PNAS paper on hyperdiversity in nematodes! She will be working on honey bee population genomics here.
Welcome Alivia!



Bahar wins William and Marguerite Davey Award!

By , November 14, 2013

Bahar with Dr. Sam Benchimol, Chair of the Department of Biology

Congrats to Bahar Madani, currently an honour thesis student in the lab. She won the Biology Department’s William and Marguerite Davey Award for a biology student that shows that greatest promise as a researcher.  Way to go Bahar!