The Honey Bee: An Emerging Model Organism for Epigenetics.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Paul Hurd

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Rob Lowe

Blizard Institute, QMUL

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Project Description:

Insect pollinators play a crucial role in most ecosystems and strongly influence ecological relationships, stability, genetic variation in plants and floral diversity. Moreover, in farmed areas, bees in particular are needed for the pollination of a variety of cultivated crops. The honeybee is used extensively for commercial pollination and it is estimated that the economic value worldwide of bee pollinators is 153 billion euros. This represents 9.5% of the value of world agricultural production used for human food. Since the honeybee occupies a crucial role in normal ecosystem function and has commercial importance, understanding the molecular biology of this organism has huge significance to human wellbeing.
Epigenetic mechanisms represent a dynamic interface between the genome of an organism and the environment, providing a mechanism for environmentally driven phenotypic plasticity. The honeybee is an excellent model since its genome encodes three distinct but genetically indistinguishable organisms or main castes (queens, sterile female workers and haploid male drones) with dramatically different physiologies, morphologies, phenotypes, diets and behaviours. This phenotypic polymorphism represents one of the most striking examples of plasticity in any phylum.
We produce experimental models and data that describe aspects of honeybee development, genome plasticity, behaviour and nutrition-genome interactions. To do this we use state-of-the-art genomic, computational and molecular tools in combination with hands-on apiculture. Currently funded by the BBSRC and Royal Society, and with 8 research hives on-site, you will work alongside a team focussing on how larval nutrition and pesticides dictate developmental outcome and adult behaviour.

Policy Impact of Research:

Recent decline in bee populations around the world is predicted to result in substantial economic losses and an inability to fulfill current food demand. How epigenetic mechanisms regulate gene expression in the honey bee will be of fundamental importance in understanding honey bee physiology, health, behaviour and response to pesticides, and will be of considerable interest to FERA, DEFRA and the commercial sector.

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