Research Highlight

How Asian honeybees adapted to diverse habitats

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.188 Published online 21 December 2020

Apis cerana

© Pixabay

A repeatedly and independently selected gene that facilitates collective foraging behaviour in Asian honeybees might have aided the evolution of distinct peripheral bee populations from one central group about 100,000 years ago, a study reveals1.

This gene reuse has enabled the bees to adapt to diverse habitats across Asia, a team of researchers has discovered.  

Genetic adaptation to novel habitats is a key process in the emergence of new species. However, it is not well understood how selection of specific genes can facilitate adaptation to multiple but differing habitats.

To better understand this process, scientists, including a researcher from the Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri, India, sequenced 343 genomes of Asian honeybees, Apis cerana, from diverse habitats. They found that exposure to different floral compositions, temperature, rainfall and geographical barriers shaped the selection of a number of genes in the peripheral bee groups.

Some of these selected genes are associated with sense of smell, cold adaptation, food selection and consumption, and learning and memory, while others with appetite, mating, immunity and DNA repair. Of the selected genes, 26 were under selection in at least two peripheral groups.

Among these genes, the Leucokinin receptor gene was detected in all peripheral groups. Foraging bees expressed this gene at significantly higher levels in the antennae and brains than those of nursing bees.

This gene, when inactivated, lowered the bees’ sensitivity to a specific sugar molecule found in nectar, suggesting its direct role in foraging behaviour.


1. Ji, Y. et al. Gene reuse facilitates rapid radiation and independent adaptation to diverse habitats in the Asian honeybee. Sci. Adv. 6:eabd3590 (2020)