Where did the honey bee come from?

It has, apparently, been a long-standing and hotly contested debate in science: from where did our beloved honey bee come?

Now, new research from York University, Canada, has potentially identified the sweet spot, with all signs pointing to Asia.

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is used for crop pollination and honey production all around the world, and is supremely adaptable, thriving anywhere from tropical rainforests to arid landscapes to temperate regions with frosty winters. Most recently, it was thought they originated in Africa.

To settle the debate once and for all, the research team sequenced 251 genomes from 18 subspecies, and used the data to reconstruct the origin and pattern of dispersal of honey bees. They found strong evidence the bees evolved in Asia, before dispersing throughout much of the world.

“As one of the world’s most important pollinators, it’s essential to know the origin of the western honey bee to understand its evolution, genetics, and how it adapted as it spread,” says corresponding author Amro Zayed of York University’s Faculty of Science.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, identified key hotspots on the bee genome that allowed these nifty pollinators to adapt to new geographic areas.

“Our research suggests that a core set of genes allowed the honey bee to adapt to a diverse set of environmental conditions across its native range by regulating worker and colony behaviour,” says York University PhD student Kathleen Dogantzis, who led the research.

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