In general, researchers take to data like bees to honey. The more data you tap into, the more progress you tend to make, and facilitating that process is the focus of the BeeBiome Data Portal project.
“Bees are fundamental to Alberta’s agriculture, but are suffering severe declines worldwide due to multiple factors,” said Rodrigo Ortega Polo, Biology Study Leader – Bioinformatics, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.
“The bee gut microbiome is the complex community of microorganisms living within the bee digestive system, and it directly impacts bee health and immunity. One of the most important challenges faced by Alberta’s agriculture industry is preserving the health of bee pollinators. The bee microbiome has a key role in bee health, and while there are multiple publicly available bee microbiome datasets from different sources, those have never been catalogued or made accessible from a single resource.”
Most of these datasets are deposited in different formats, making it impossible to systematically search for sequence resources. It is widely felt that the scientific community needs a platform for bee microbiome data mining that will facilitate cross-study comparisons and allow the integration of novel data.
To address that need, the goal of this project is to advance the development of the BeeBiome Data Portal, which will allow analysis and sharing of information on the microorganisms and viruses associated with bees.
“The project aims to provide a single portal where bee microbiome researchers can access all existing relevant data, as well as data sets of individual microbes linked with pathogens that cause infection.”
To maximize its effectiveness, the BeeBiome Data Portal will offer a number of capabilities. It will provide a procedure to upload new bee microbiome datasets by including standardized information about the samples and datasets (i.e. standardised metadata) and allow for cross-study analyses. The portal will also include a comprehensive catalogue of all currently available sequence datasets about bee-associated microbes and viruses.
Finally, scientists envision the portal serving as an entry point for assessing data and offering simple tools for data mining to facilitate access to information on the diversity of bee-associated microbes and viruses and their impact on bee health.
If all goes as planned, the end result will be a portal that accelerates bee microbiome research in Alberta and globally by promoting data standardization, sharing, analysis and drawing of conclusions from datasets to better understand the impact of associated microbes and viruses on bees.
“The other noteworthy aspect of this project is that we are including different types of users, from bee researchers to biologists to anyone with an interest in analyzing bee microbiome data. We also want to develop an application programming interface that can be used by people with more expertise to access the portal and include its data in their own pipelines and workflows.”
For the layperson who wonders why so much attention is focused on bees, there is a reason for the buzz of excitement around the BeeBiome Data Portal.
“Alberta is the largest centre of honey production in Canada. Honeybee pollinators contribute more than $2 billion to the canola industry on the Prairies, and the latest estimates are that canola production relies on 62,000 honeybee colonies to sustain itself, so the impact of this insect on the economy cannot be overstated.”
Beyond the impact on Alberta, researchers hope this project will spark international cooperation for the advancement of bee research.
“Our vision is that the portal will provide a platform where we can all converge and work towards a better understanding of the bee microbiome and its association with health, immunity, disease and response to stressors. By addressing these different areas, we can go a long way towards offering better solutions to current issues in the bee sector and beyond.”