News Release

100 prioritized social insect genomes onboard

Business Announcement

BGI Shenzhen

September 19th, 2011, Shenzhen - New generation shotgun sequencing for obtaining genomes of advanced eukaryotes was pioneered by BGI when they published the giant panda genome in Nature less than 20 months ago (Li et al. 2010). The first two ant genomes published in Science in August last year were another landmark (Bonasio et al., 2010). In early 2011, BGI contacted representatives of the international research community working on ants, bees, termites, and wasps to join them in making the social insects a priority area for genome sequencing, as they had already started to sequence yet another ant (Nygaard et al. 2011) and several bees. This resulted in considerable response and a conference hosted by BGI in the first days of July this year ( Seventy five Chinese and foreign delegates enjoyed an exciting program of keynote lectures, contributed papers and posters to update each other on ongoing and planned research that involves genome sequencing technology.

The social insects are very important organisms. The ants and termites dominate many (semi)natural ecosystems as predators, decomposers or pests, the bees provide honey and crucial pollination services for crops, and the wasps make venoms that can be used in the medical industry. Jointly, the social insects are fundamental for biology, as they have independently evolved highly complex societies that are second only to our own. The major output of the conference has been a consensus list of about 50 species of social insects for which genome sequencing has already started, and another ca. 125 prioritized species for genome sequencing as soon as funding can be obtained. BGI has committed to do these genomes as collaborative matched-funding projects for a highly competitive rate. The list contains both key species that will allow the resolution of the phylogenies of the ants, bees, termites and social wasps, and species that have particularly interesting biology, for example because they are invasive pests or social parasites, because they have peculiar sexual or caste systems, or because they represent important transitions in social evolution and symbiosis.

The list has now been made available on line ( It has been drawn up by editors who polled their colleagues world-wide that could not attend the Shenzhen conference. The ant list was edited by Phil Ward (UC Davis) and Juergen Gadau (Arizona State University) and contains 17 ongoing genome projects, 31 first priority new projects, and 11 second priorities. The bee list was edited by Karen Kapheim and Gene Robinson (University of Illinois) and contains 24 ongoing genome projects, 14 first priority new projects, and 18 second priorities. The termite list was edited by Judith Korb (University of Osnabrück) and contains 4 ongoing genome projects, 11 first priority new projects, and 9 second priorities. The wasp list was edited by Amy Toth (Iowa State University) and Seirian Sumner (Institute of Zoology, London) and contains 4 ongoing genome projects, 9 first priority new projects, and 23 second priorities. The final list that has now come on line was edited by Jacobus Boomsma (University of Copenhagen).


The Press is released by BGI-Shenzhen, also on behalf of the conference program committee: Jacobus Boomsma (University of Copenhagen), Owain Edwards (CSIRO, Australia), Jürgen Gadau (Arizona State University), and Huangming Yang (Honorary President of BGI)


1. Li, R., Fan, W., Tian, G., Zhu, H., He, L., Cai, J., Huang, Q., Cai, Q., Li, B., Bai, Y., et al. (2010). The sequence and de novo assembly of the giant panda genome. Nature 463, 311-317.

2. Bonasio, R., Zhang, G., Ye, C., Mutti, N.S., Fang, X., Qin, N., Donahue, G., Yang, P., Li, Q., Li, C., et al. (2010). Genomic comparison of the ants Camponotus floridanus and Harpegnathos saltator. Science 329, 1068-1071.

3. Nygaard, S., Zhang, G., Schiott, M., Li, C., Wurm, Y., Hu, H., Zhou, J., Ji, L., Qiu, F., Rasmussen, M., et al. (2011). The genome of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex echinatior suggests key adaptations to advanced social life and fungus farming. Genome Research 21, 1339-1348.

Contact Information:

Guojie Zhang,
Associate Director of Scientific Department,

Bicheng Yang
Public Communication Officer

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