Giant hornet DNA revealed

The first complete genome of the Asian giant hornet has been released by a team of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. Their goal is to produce the genome and make it available quickly after an invasive insect is detected so researchers will have this information immediately to help coordinate an effective response.

Asian giant hornets are the largest wasps in the world, ranging from 1½ to 2 inches long. Their native range extends from northern India to East Asia. But now, they have been found in western Washington State as well as in western Canada.

Asian giant hornets concern beekeepers because they can attack honeybee colonies during the late summer and early fall.

The team of ARS entomologists and DNA sequence experts began the task in May in collaboration with the biotechnology company Pacific Biosciences. They were able to rapidly produce the entire genome sequence from the thorax of a single frozen insect.

Anna Childers, a computational biologist with the ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, explained it is important to establish the sequence of the current colony in North America. This will help determine if any new finds come from the original source or to potentially signal a separate introduction from their Asian homeland.

Genomic data also are being gathered from populations of Asian giant hornets across its native range so differences in various subspecies can be mapped. Scientists can use the data to try and determine the origin of Asian giant hornets in North America.

“Having this reference genome 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,” Childers adds.

This work is part of the Ag100Pest Initiative, an ARS program to produce reference quality genome assemblies for the top 100 arthropod agricultural pests, including foreign pest species that are potential invasive threats to U.S. agriculture.

More rapid development of reference genomes in response to the appearance of potentially harmful invasive pests is a paradigm shift for invasive species management.

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