Category: Articles

New paper on bee conservation ‘omics

By , October 17, 2016

Jeff Lozier and I have a perspective out on bee conservation genomics – check it out in Conservation Genetics. Yay, my first paper with Jeff! Was a fun experience.


Science: Bee genomes take flight!

By , May 20, 2015

The bee community’s answer to the 12 fruit fly genomes…. The 10 bee genomes…. all the ACGT’s plus methylation and very cool social behaviour… take that Drosophila!  🙂 [who has Drosophila envy —> me]

My former postdoc Dr. Clement Kent and I were part of a large international effort, spearheaded by the Karen Kapheim and Gene Robinson from the University of Illinois, to sequence and study the genomes of 10 bee species that vary in terms of their social organization. The study was published in the journal Science last week. Our role was to study patterns of molecular evolution as a function of social organization and genome structure.

It was a lot of fun! The added bonus (in addition to a paper in Science) is that i am now a co-author with 50+ of my favourite bee researchers from around the world… Neat!

Anyways, check out the nice little write up on the article by TheScientist’s Ruth Williams


A new test for ‘killer bees’

By , May 20, 2015

Happy to report that we played an important role in an international effort to develop a new diagnostic test for africanized ‘killer’ bees. Africanized bees invaded the southern US where Canadian beekeepers like to import queen bees. Older tests for telling if a bee is africanized or not are not reliable. We worked closely with Nadine Chapman and Ben Oldroyd from the University of Sydney’s famed social insect lab to develop a very accurate genetic  test. PhD candidate Brock Harpur used our database of over 12 million mutations in the honey bee  to pick diagnostic mutations that differ between African and European bees.

The study was recently published online in Molecular Ecology Resources. Also see the York U and UoSydney press releases too!

Chapman, N.C., Harpur, B.A., Lim, J., Rinderer, T.E., Allsopp, M.H., Zayed, A., Oldroyd, B.P. (2015) A SNP test to identify Africanized honey bees via proportion of ‘African’ ancestry. Molecular Ecology Resources. DOI: 10.1111/1755-0998.12411

Two new reviews published

By , April 8, 2015

Happy to report the publication of two new reviews.

The first is titled Beyond fruit-flies: population genomic advances in non-Drosophila arthropods which just published in Briefings in Functional Genomics. I co-authored this review with Martin Hasselmann (University of Hohenheim, Germany) and Luca Ferretti (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France). I am a big fan of Martin H.’s work on bee genetics – He and Martin Beye discovered and studied the honey bee’s sex determination gene, csd – and so i was very happy when he asked me to work with him on the review. We review how next generation sequencing has opened the door to answering some long-standing questions about insect evolution and adaptation.

The next review also published last week in Volume 48 of Advances in Insect Physiology. It is titled Population Genomic and Phylogenomic Insights into the Evolution of Physiology and Behaviour in Social Insects, and is co-authored with former-postdoc and now Senior Scientist at the HHMI’s Janelia Farm Campus, Clement Kent. The review focuses on how population genomics is helping us understand how and why social insects came to be(e).

New edited book on Sociogenomics!

By , April 8, 2015

Happy to report the publication of a new volume of Advances in Insect Physiology that i co-edited with Dr. Clement Kent, titled Genomics, Physiology and Behaviour of Social Insects. The book launched last week, and contains ten fantastic (in my slightly humble and obviously very biased opinion!) chapters on genomics-empowered research on the biology of social insects.  Clement and I strived for diversity and so we got honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, ants (ok… partial coverage on the ants) termites, and aphids… oh my! Check out the nice cover and table of contents here and below.AIP 48 front and back

It was a lot of work, but we had a group of fabulous and dedicated authors that really helped with meeting the very tight deadlines… Many of us worked over the December break and new years ; I remember doing some last min. editing on Christmas day, before the turkey!  Clement and I are very proud of the result, and we hope you enjoy it too!


New paper on the immune system of honey bees

By , August 29, 2014

Happy to announce a new publication from the lab on the immune system of honey bees in PLoS ONE. The study explored the genetic relationship between the honey bee’s innate and social immune system. The study was authored by PhD candidate Brock Harpur, with strong contributions from Anna Chernyshova and Arash Soltani – two honours thesis students in my lab (2012). MSc Candidate Nadia Tsvetkov and NSERC USRA students Mohammad and Jack (Zhixing) were instrumental in completing the field-work .

A general summary of the research will follow in a few days…


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!



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

Management and diversity in honey bees: comment and reply.

By , June 2, 2013

De la Rúa et al. raised some comments about our recent article showing that management enhances genetic diversity in honey bees. Their comments, along with our response have been published online in Molecular Ecology.  We stress that admixture does enhance genetic diversity in managed bees.

Conserving genetic diversity in the honeybee: Comments on Harpur et al. (2012)
Pilar De la Rúa, Rodolfo Jaffé, Irene Muñoz, José Serrano, Robin F. A. Moritz and F. Bernhard Kraus
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2013 | DOI: 10.1111/mec.12333


Admixture increases diversity in managed honey bees: Reply to De la Rúa et al. (2013)
Brock A. Harpur, Shermineh Minaei, Clement F. Kent and Amro Zayed
Article first published online: 9 MAY 2013 | DOI: 10.1111/mec.12332