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Giant Hornet Genome Sequenced

Asian giant hornet

Asian giant hornet (Matthew Buffington, ARS)

7 Aug. 2020. The genome of the Asian giant hornet, a species threatening bees and humans, was analyzed, with the data released by the Agricultural Research Service. The biotechnology company Pacific Biosciences in Menlo Park, California performed much of the genomic sequencing of the invasive insect, which first appeared last year in Washington State and British Columbia.

The Asian giant hornet — Vespa mandarinia, nicknamed the murder hornet — is native to India and East Asia, and one of the largest wasps, ranging from 1.5 to 2 inches long. The insects are known to attack honey bee colonies with their strong jaws and venom, and thus are considered a threat to bee keepers. Just 10 hornets can reportedly destroy an entire hive of European honey bees, the main species found in North America. Honey bees play a vital role in agriculture, pollinating crops that make up about one-third of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S.

Pacific Biosciences conducted the sequencing for ARS. The company performs genomic analyses for biomedical and agricultural research, using what the company calls its high-fidelity sequencing that reads longer strands of DNA with less source material. Reading these longer strands makes it easier to re-assemble the analyzed genome, using in this case the company’s higher-speed assembly process. Using parts of a frozen Asian giant hornet found on Vancouver Island, British Columbia in September 2019, the company was able to complete its analysis in about two months.

ARS, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published the Asian giant hornet sequencing data yesterday on the department’s Ag Data Commons web site, as well as at National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Library of Medicine in NIH. The sequencing data are expected to provide a reference for other labs to develop controls and countermeasures against the hornet.

“Having this reference genome,” says computational biologist and project leader Anna Childers at ARS’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland in an agency statement, “will help provide a broader biological picture of the Asian giant hornet. It also will help build an understanding of the dynamics of any Asian giant hornet populations in this country and how they may adapt as well as possibly provide information to sharpen the development of controls to prevent them from becoming established.”

ARS says the two-month turnaround of the analysis indicates agricultural and health authorities can respond to invasive species like the hornet before large-scale damage can occur. The Bee Research Lab plans to gather genomic data of Asian giant hornets still in their native regions, to determine if new sub-species are emerging, as well as determine the source of the North American variety.

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