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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Research Project: Probiotics and Chalkbrood Disease in the Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee

Location: Pollinating Insect-biology, Management, Systematics Research

Project Number: 2080-21000-015-03-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 15, 2012
End Date: Sep 14, 2015

Our goal is to understand how microorganisms in the bee gut affect bee health, and to identify possible probiotics that might help control chalkbrood (a disease of bee larvae) and other leafcutting bee diseases. To do this, we will address the following questions: 1) What microorganisms occur in the intestines of alfalfa leafcutting bee larvae? 2) If we remove certain bacteria or fungi from the gut, does this affect bee resistance to chalkbrood and other diseases? 3) How does the presence of the chalkbrood fungus (Ascosphaera aggregata) affect gut microorganisms?

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that occur in the gut and help stave off disease. These are well studied in humans and livestock. Chalkbrood first develops in bees by way of an infection that starts in the gut. It is possible that probiotics occur in bees and affect their susceptibility to chalkbrood. However, little to nothing is known about the bacteria and fungi that occur in healthy alfalfa leafcutting bees, and nothing is known about the interaction between these microorganisms and the chalkbrood pathogen. We will take advantage of modern DNA-sequencing technology to identify gut-associated microbes, as a first step towards identifying beneficial symbionts and whether they can prevent infectious disease. Old DNA sequencing techniques were both costly and time-consuming, but new high-throughput DNA-sequencing techniques allow scientists to conduct broad surveys of microbial communities rapidly, at a much lower cost per sequence. Thus, it is now possible to collect a very large number of microbial DNA sequences from bee guts and use these to identify what microbes are present.

Last Modified: 10/18/2017
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