Last week, The Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium published the honeybee genome in the British scientific journal Nature. The honeybee, Apis millifera, is an important agricultural and ecosystem insect because of its role in flower pollination, and it is a model specie to study social behavior and the co-evolution of insects and plants.
It seems the honeybee has more genes for odor detection and fewer genes for taste than does the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, another model insect genome that was sequenced back in 1999. It looks like the honeybee lives by its "nose", so to speak.
With the honeybee sequence in hand, a large number of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) were used to look at the population relationships of ten subspecies of A. mellifera. From the Consortium's analysis it appears that A. m. scutellata, better known to us as the African Killer Bee, is much older than our western and northern European Apis millifera millifera bees. Like humans, it looks like our western honeybees of today have their genetic roots in Africa. The authors suggest at least two separate migrations of A. mellifera into Eurasia: one into Europe via the Iberian Peninsula that expanded into central Europe and Russia, and one or more migrations into Asia and eastern Europe south of the Alps.
References: Nature News; Nature podcast—skip to time 5:30 and listen to the 4:30 long interview with one of the authors; Editorial in Nature; News and Views in Nature by Edward O. Wilson; The Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium, Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera, Nature 443: 931-949 (2006).