“Sequencing the Asian giant hornet genome has been a real pushing-the-envelope sort of project for us,” says Anna Childers, a computational biologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, or ARS. Childers works in the agency’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, and leads its genome assembly group. Since 2011, scientists at the agency have been sequencing agriculturally important arthropods—not just bees, but flies, ticks, beetles, and lots of other bugs, too—as part of the agency’s contribution to the “i5k” initiative, itself one arm within a planet-scale sequencing moon shot known as the Earth BioGenome Project.
I5k’s goal was to catalog the genomes of 5,000 species within five years. But as of yet, the sequences of only 78 organisms have been completed, according to the initiative’s database. Insect genomes, it turned out, proved particularly challenging to map. For one thing, their chitin-covered bodies are small, so there’s often