November 15, 2006

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Danny Weaver, president of Bee Weaver Apiaries in Navasota, holds bees taken from a hive used for breeding queens. Bee Weaver Apiaries provides queens for beekeepers to start or add colonies. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Edith Chenault)

Bee genome information housed at Texas A&M University

By Edith A. Chenault
Texas Cooperative Extension

The cluster of electronics looks mundane enough. Twenty computers hum away, blue lights flashing. But the data these computers are processing, though, may help cure disease and put food on tables throughout the world.

About three years ago, Dr. Christine Elsik an expert in genomics in the department of animal science at Texas A&M University offered to house the data from the honey bee genome sequencing project at Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center. Baylor researchers finished sequencing the genome in March, but the work continues.

Elsik's computers house the data from the sequence of the 16 chromosomes and 265 million nucleotides of the honey bee, she said.

Baylor's findings from the honey bee genome sequencing were published in Nature. Baylor took the lead on the sequencing in 2003, with assistance from Texas A&M, Australian National University, and other universities, agencies and individuals such as Dan Weaver of Navasota.

"I think it is going to dramatically change the way that beekeepers manage their hives and suppress disease and parasitic mites in their colonies," said Weaver, president of Bee Weaver Apiaries. "It will help us have healthier bees that are more productive."

Bee Weaver Apiaries supplies breeding queens to beekeepers, he said.

Weaver helped initiate the honey bee genome sequencing work in 2001. Weaver, Dr. Spencer Johnston, entomologist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, researchers from University of Illinois, U.S. Department of Agriculture and several other universities and agencies, wrote a "white paper" that explained the need for and potential benefits of sequencing the genome. That paper was submitted to the National Institutes of Health, which provided the funding to Baylor College of Medicine for the research.

With support from the Experiment Station and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M, DNA from a honey bee queen supplied by Weaver was used to make a draft copy of the bee genome.

An international team of researchers from Baylor, Texas A&M, University of Illinois, Australian National University and USDA analyzed the genome.

"I have been looking forward to having the information from the honey bee genome for a number of years," Weaver said. "Using this information should make it simpler to select and propagate honey bees resistant to parasites and disease, and enable more accurate identification of Africanized honey bees."

The object of mapping the genome is to show where genes are located on the chromosome, Elsik said. That work is well along. What is left, she said, is the detail work.

Johnston likened that work to having a thick book written with only four of the 26 letters of the alphabet all in one long sentence. The researchers' task is to learn how to punctuate and read that language by identifying key words, sentences and chapters within that book. Many scientists have worked together to find the exact location and sequence of genes of interest, he said.

"One approach is to compare the honey bee sequence with sequence data from other organisms, such as the fruit fly and man," he said. "Genes are conserved among organisms, so it is often possible to recognize honey bee genes by their similarity to other known genes."

"I think honey bee genomics will provide new technological innovation which will enable us to produce more foods, better quality food with fewer inputs in the form of potentially dangerous or toxic chemicals in the environment," Weaver said.

Also, since scientists perceive the bee as a model organism to study human health and disease, the genome could also lead to medical breakthroughs in humans, he said.

Two new technologies that represent a significant advance in agriculture have come out of the sequencing effort, Weaver said. The first is an advance in RNAi or RNAinterference. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is a molecular structure that is used by DNA as a template to translate genetic information into proteins.

RNA interference effectively silences genes by administering short double-stranded RNAs complementary to the gene one wants to turn off, he said.

"While RNAi recently won the Nobel Prize for the scientists who discovered it in nematodes Craig Mello and Andrew Fire its tremendous potential for therapeutic applications in human medicine will depend upon a better understanding of how the RNAi response differs between nematodes and humans," Weaver said.

The honey bee RNAi genes are much more like both the nematode and human RNAi genes than the RNAi genes of some other well-studied organisms like the fruit fly, he added.

Developing ways of treating insects with this new class of regulatory compounds, could "profoundly and very specifically change their genetic responses," he said.

"RNAi has the potential to control production of different castes for colony maintenance, influence honey bee pollination behavior so important to crop production, and even modify the defensive response of the Africanized honey bee making it a less significant threat to human welfare," he said.

Genes could literally be "turned on or off" in honey bees or in pathogens, Weaver said. That is a significant advance, he added.

"One of the challenges beekeepers face in their attempt to control other arthropod vectors and disease in their hives is that most current pesticides that are toxic to the pest also kill the honey bee," he said.

The second technological advance is the ability to genotype bees. For example, Weaver's employees routinely snip portions of queens' wings to mark them for shipment. DNA could be extracted from the wings and tested to see if the queens carry Africanized honey bee genes or other genes of interest.

Honey bees contribute an estimated $15 billion per year in agricultural value through their pollination of fruit, nut and vegetable crops, Weaver said.

"It's also estimated that one out of three bites on your table is a direct consequence of honey bee pollination," he said.

"Honey bee biologists would have to go to a lot of trouble to sequence in their labs every single gene they are interested in," Elsik said. "They can go to our Web site and download the sequence. It saves them a lot of work."

"With the release of the completed honey bee genome we have taken bites of another kind toward understanding the behavior and social structure and life history of this beneficial insect," Johnston said.


Texas Cooperative Extension releases second round of phorid flies to combat fire ants

By Paul Schattenber
Texas Cooperative Extension

A second release of phorid flies for the control of fire ants has been made by Texas Cooperative Extension for Dallas County at Ray Roberts Park in Denton County, said an Extension expert.

Thousands of the Pseudaction tricuspis species of phorid fly were released at the park during a two-week period from mid to late October, said Kimberley Schofield, Extension program specialist for urban integrated pest management in Tarrant County.

Ray Roberts Park, about 45 miles northwest of Dallas, was selected as the location for the release due to the likelihood the flies would be undisturbed, its proximity to a water source and an abundance of fire ants, she said.

Phorid flies, which are imported from South America, are a natural enemy of fire ants and are being used in many Texas counties for their control. Releases such as the one that recently took place at Ray Roberts Park will provide useful information on the effectiveness of phorid flies as a supplement to other forms of fire ant control, including chemical control, said Schofield.

"This is the second attempt at introducing this species as a natural control of fire ants at the park," she said. "We tried another release of the same species before in the same general area as this one. We think it was too cold when we released them, so they didn't take hold. We're hoping the conditions will be better this time and these will survive."

The phorid flies were released on all but three days during the period of Oct. 16-31, said Schofield. From 125 to 450 flies were released each time.

"They don't treat for fire ants at the park, so this will give us a good idea of what effect the phorid flies alone will have on them," she said.

Schofield will check on how the new release is progressing on a regular basis, but will not do an assessment of their actual impact on the nearby fire ant population until April of next year.

"By that time, we should know if they've taken hold and if it looks as if they're making a difference, she said. "The fall release of these phorid flies should allow them to establish a population and have a noticeable impact on fire ants in the area by spring of next year."

Extension's release of another type of phorid fly, Pseudaction curbatus, in North Texas in 2004 has been successful, according to Schofield.

"That species took hold well and its population has spread about four miles north and south of the release point," she said. "We're hoping the Pseudaction tricuspis species will have similar success in this area the second time around."

  The Compost Heap
Readers Respond

From Judy Tye: "I loved this one ["Gnome on the Range"]! All except for the last sentence, which was a groaner. But you really didn't expect to get away with that one, did you?"

  Readers' Gardening Tips

"Cardboard (not Styrofoam) egg cartons make excellent seed pots. Once the seedlings are growing and ready to set out," writes Roberta Johnson, "just tear the carton into separate sections and set in the ground. The plant roots will grow through the cardboard, which will eventually rot without disturbing the young plant."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Crickets can make a pretty good thermometer in a pinch. They chirp at a rate that increases as the temperature rises: the higher the temperature, the greater the number of chirps per minute. Count the number of chirps they make in fourteen seconds and that will be the temperature at their location.


  Upcoming Garden Events

Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens, Galveston, at the fifth annual Festival of Lights November 18 through January 6. This entertainment-filled celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 18, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Transforming its lush garden setting into a winter menagerie of lights, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and slide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink or listen to holiday music performed by area bands. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or see the giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will show a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Several special holiday packages are also available for groups of 30 or more that can include luxury bus transportation, event admission and the holiday buffet. Special Festival of Lights packages are also available at the Moody Gardens Hotel November 18-January 6. For more information, please call (800) 582-4673 or visit

Arbor Gate will hold its 10th Annual Christmas Open House Saturday, December 2 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 15635 FM 2920, Tomball. Expect lots of food, friends, music and more. Admission is free. Call (281) 351-8851 for more information or visit them on-line at

Each year, for the last several years, John Panzarella has had a citrus tasting and open house at his home, 404 Forest Drive, Lake Jackson. The next open house will be Saturday, December 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Everyone is invited to taste citrus and see fruit trees. Panzarella has approximately 200 different varieties of citrus, 50 percent to 70 percent fruiting, plus several varieties of persimmon, sapote, guava, pawpaw, loquat, pomegranate, avocado, papaya, fig, peach, passion fruit, mango, and pecan trees growing in his backyard. There will be approximately 50 to 60 varieties of citrus to taste. Come taste the citrus, and see the 3rd largest citrus collection in the state of Texas and the largest collection north of the Texas Rio Grand Valley. Come see and taste the giant Panzarella orange and the giant Panzarella cluster lemon. See grapefruit, tangerines and oranges all growing on the same tree. Admission is free. Call (979) 297-2120 or e-mail for a new date if extreme bad weather is predicted, or if you have other questions.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Coffee Day," Saturday, January 13, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Just in time for the crisp wintry air, this annual family day event features coffee tastings and other exotic treats. Coffee Day is a celebration of tropical plants for edible pleasure and medicinal purposes, derived from the jungle. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

Harris County Master Gardener Fruit Tree Sale & Symposium will be held Saturday, January 13, 2007 at the Harris County Extension Office, 3033 Bear Creek Dr. Houston. Preview 8 a.m.; workshops 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.; sale 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; lecture and demonstration topics and times TBA. For more information, call (281) 855-5600 or visit

Urban Harvest will host its annual fruit tree sale Saturday, January 20, 2007, 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive, Houston (West of Loop 610 between San Felipe and Westheimer). A pre-sale talk discussing the fruit trees available at the sale begins at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 9:20 a.m. There will be a large selection of citrus trees, as well as trees that produce peaches, plums, apples, pears, figs, pecans, grapes, blackberries, persimmons, and more. For more information on fruit varieties and directions to the sale, check the Urban Harvest website beginning in December.

The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association will present the 6th annual Texas Conference on Organic Production Systems, "The Local Food Revolution: Bringing Texas Home" January 27 through 27, 2007 in Mesquite. Speakers include Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow from the Leopold Center and Jessica Prentice, chef, educator and author of Full Moon Feast. Included among the activities will be farm tours, a new farmers workshop, and an organic home gardening workshop. For additional information, call (877) 326-5175 or visit

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Chocolate Day," Saturday, February 10, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Activities include chocolate tastings, chocolate mint plant giveaway, exotic fruits tastings, and children's crafts. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the Ninth Annual Hill Country Lawn & Garden Show March 31, 2007, at the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free Admission and seminars. It features garden related vendors, demonstrations, a children's booth, raffle and seminars by Malcolm Beck, Bill Luedecke and the Antique Rose Emporium. For more information go to or call (325) 388-8849.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host a Spring Plant Sale, Saturday, March 31, 2007, 9 a.m. until sold out. Purchase healthy, hardy plants suitable for the San Antonio environment and get expert advice from SABG volunteers, many of whom are Master Gardeners. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit

The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 676-4326 or visit

The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

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Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

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