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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Bee Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #438129

Research Project: Managing Honey Bees Against Disease and Colony Stress

Location: Bee Research Laboratory

2023 Annual Report

The overarching goal of the project is to develop management strategies for bee diseases & colony health & to provide the beekeeping community with advice for best practices to build & maintain healthy bee populations for pollination. This goal will be achieved by pursuring the following specific objectives: OBJ 1: Develop diagnostic & data management tools for use in mitigating the effects of current & emerging honey bee diseases & pests & continue to operate the Agency’s Bee Disease Diagnostic Service. [NP305, Component 2, PS 2A & 2B] 1.A: Identify & characterize new & emerging pathogens that cause honey bee diseases & to develop efficient diagnostic markers to monitor disease onset & progression in honey colonies; 1.B: Develop diagnostic method for measuring stress in honey bees; 1.C: Improve diagnostic & informatic tools for bee health. OBJ 2: Develop novel & effective treatment solutions, including varroacides & natural products, that reduce the incidence & prevalence of bee diseases & disorders to help beekeepers maximize pollination services & honey production. [NP305, Component 2, PS 2A & 2B] 2.A: Develop tools & strategies for preventing & controlling honey bee pests that harm individual bees & damage hive products; 2.B: Develop RNAi based specific therapeutics for bee diseases; 2.C: Identify natural products that reduce bee diseases; 2.D: Develop novel methods to mitigate the detrimental effects associated with pesticide exposure. OBJ 3: Analyze the seasonal behavior & physiology of adult worker bees, & thus develop improved best management strategies for increasing the overwintering success of honey bee colonies in the field. [NP305, Component 2, PS 2A & 2B] 3.A: Refine our understanding of the seasonality of honey bee colonies & identify abiotic & biotic factors that disrupt the timing or occurrence of seasonal events; 3.B: Determine overwintering strategies of honey bee pests, including Varroa mites, wax moths, & small hive beetles, & develop methods & tools for their control; 3.C: Determine the effects to biological clock/seasonal physiology of honey bees from different overwintering strategies employed by beekeepers & develop successful overwintering strategies. OBJ 4: Determine the causes of queen failures & improve honey bee queen quality related to colony survivorship. [NP305, Component 2, PS 2A & 2B] 4.A: Improving queen genetic diversity & their resistance to diseases; 4.B: Compare available queen lines & stocks to determine their disease Resistance; 4.C: Define the epigenetic factors of queen fitness & develop strategies to improve queen quality. OBJ 5: Analyze the interactions between honey bee nutrition, their microbiomes, chemical stress, disease, & hive treatments, to improve bee health & performance. [NP305, Component 2, PS 2A & 2B] 5.A: Determine the effect of nutritional supplementation on honey bee behavioral development & disease immunity; 5.B: Determine the relationship between gut microbiota & nutrition on honey bee behavior & immunity to diseases & abiotic stressors; 5.C: Improve bee defenses in the face of abiotic & biotic stress.

Bee Research Laboratory scientists combine laboratory and field approaches and integrate physiology, molecular biology, toxicology, ecology, and multi-omics technologies (genome, metagenome, transcriptome, epigenome, metabolome, and microbiome) into an interdisciplinary research program to generate new knowledge, technologies, and tools for 1) diagnosing, treating, and mitigating bee diseases and pests, 2) creating platforms that provide data sources and analytic applications to advance bee research and to broaden the range of our custom services, 3) improving colonies' overwintering success, 4) developing strategies for improving queen quality, and 5) discovering nutrition-based approaches for disease prevention and health promotion and protecting bees from pesticides and other toxins present in the environment. BRL scientists work with industry leaders and stakeholders to help license and develop products that will be useful for beekeepers and customers.

Progress Report
This is the Annual report for project Managing Honey Bees Against Disease and Colony Stress which falls under National Program 305 (Crop Production), Action Plan Component II (Bees and Pollination), Problem Area A (Honey bees). During this period, our Bee Disease Diagnostic Service responded to field colony losses by identifying disease-causing agents in bee samples sent by beekeepers across the U.S. These determinations included over 70 positive identifications of American foulbrood annually, helping in the control of this regulated infectious disease. Through peer-reviewed papers and invention disclosures, and cooperative agreements, the six Bee Research Laboratory scientists (five Cat 1 and one Cat 4) generated large sets of genetic data and publicly accessible platforms, including genomic databases, that have allowed for the development of diagnostic and detection tools and therapeutic strategies, produced new knowledge relating to mechanisms in underlying complex diseases, facilitating the development of novel therapeutic strategies for bee ailments caused by various factors, and leading to the formulation of the best practice guidelines for effective bee disease and pest management. Collectively, research under this program helped targeted the long-term goal of managing honey bees against disease and colony stress, by identifying key causes of colony losses and developing medicines and management tools to help reduce those losses. These efforts were funded by base funds, interagency transfers, stakeholder grants and governmental grants.

1. Controlling the impacts of Varroa mites on honey bees. ARS scientists in Beltsville, Maryland, have led research testing candidates for the chemical control of Varroa mites, with external and ARS support, resulting in CRADA agreements and pending inventions. Additional efforts have led to the identification of cues used by Varroa to locate host larvae (404788) and two papers related to the pathways by which mites transmit viruses to bees 396403, 397988). Finally, ongoing research has identified plant compounds (399053) and amino acids (391121) that help reduce gut parasites and mite-transmitted viruses, respectively.

2. Honey bee genetics and winter survivorship. Challenges to honey bee health arise from disease agents, chemical stress and nutritional challenges. Bees are especially stressed in the winter months due to temperature, parasites, and the inability to replace aging worker bees and queens. Bee Research Laboratory scientists discovered a key honey bee cell signaling pathway, and then used a therapeutic strategy to target this pathway, improving bee and colony survivorship (391334). They also showed how bees are differently susceptible to chemical stress in winter, improving survivorship management options (404024). This work was coupled with a nationwide analysis of honey bee varieties (396604, 399616) setting the stage for understanding climate-based preferences of honey bee stock. Honey bee winter survival can be improved by genetic comparisons with diapause and overwintering in the hundreds of other bee species used in pollination. ARS scientists in Beltsville are leading the Beenome100 project focused on producing reference genomes for 100+ U.S. bee pollinators and leveraging these genomes for bee health through multiple outgoing agreements and the coordination of twenty research laboratories. This effort is paying off with insights on bee host use and climate expansion (392023), and improved methodologies for describing bee genomes (394441).

Review Publications
Zhang, Y., Liu, A., Huang, S., Evans, J.D., Cook, S.C., Palmer-Young, E., Corona, M.V., Alburaki, M., Liu, G., Han, R., Li, W., Hao, Y., Li, J., Gilligan, T., Smith-Pardo, A.H., Banmeke, O., Posada-Florez, F.J., Gao, Y.H., Hoffman, G.D., Xie, H., Chen, Y. 2022. Mediating a host cell signaling pathway linked to the overwinter mortality offers a promising therapeutic approach for improving bee health. Journal of Advanced Research.
Lamas, Z., Serhat, S., Ryabov, E.V., Mowery, J.D., Sonenshine, D., Evans, J.D., Hawhorne, D.J. 2023. Promiscious feeding on multiple adult honey bee hosts amplifies the vectorial capacity of Varroa destructor. PLoS Pathogens. 19(1): e1011061.
Alburaki, M., Madella, S., Lopez, J.A., Bouga, M., Chen, Y., Van Engelsdorp, D. 2023. USA honey bee populations display restrictions in their mtDNA haplotype diversity. Frontiers in Genetics. 13:1092121.
Marcelino, J., Braese, C., Christmon, K., Evans, J.D., Gilligan, T., Giray, T., Nearman, A., Nino, E., Rose, R., Sheppard, W., Spivak, M., Vanengelsdorp, D., Ellis, J. 2022. The movement of Western honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) among U.S. states and territories: history, benefits, risks, and mitigation strategies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 10:850600.
Zhang, X., Sun, L.S., Zhao, D., Hou, C., Xia, X., Cai, Y., Li, J., Chen, Y. 2022. Adenosine and L-proline can possibly hinder Chinese Sacbrood virus infection in honey bees via immune modulation. Viruses. 573:29-38.
Zhang, X., Liu, Q., Zhao, Y., Kong, L., Chen, Y., Hao, Y., Peng, W. 2022. Division of labor among worker bees is associated with the lipidomic plasticity in their brains. Journal of Insect Physiology. 12:952.
Stahlke, A.R., Chen, J., Tembrock, L.R., Sim, S.B., Chudalayandi, S., Geib, S.M., Scheffler, B.E., Perera, O.P., Gilligan, T.M., Childers, A.K., Hackett, K.J., Coates, B.S. 2022. A chromosome-scale genome assembly of a Helicoverpa zea strain resistant to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac insecticidal protein. Genome Biology and Evolution. 15(3). Article evac131.
Ryabov, E.V., Posada-Florez, F.J., Rogers, C.W., Lamas, Z.S., Evans, J.D., Chen, Y., Cook, S.C. 2022. The vectoring competence of the mite Varroa destructor for Deformed wing virus of honey bees is dynamic and affects survival of the mite. Frontiers in Insect Science. 2:931352.
Cohen, Z.P., Perkin, L.C., Sim, S.B., Stahlke, A.R., Geib, S.M., Childers, A.K., Smith, T.P., Suh, C.P. 2022. Insight into weevil biology from a reference quality genome of the boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis grandis Boheman (Coleoptera: Curculionidae). G3, Genes/Genomes/Genetics. Article jkac309.
Liu, J., Zhang, R., Tang, R., Zhang, Y., Guo, R., Xu, G., Chen, D., Huang, Z., Chen, Y., Han, R., Li, W. 2022. The role of honey bee derived aliphatic esters in the host-finding behavior of Varroa destructor. Insects. 14(1). Article e14010024.
Penn, H., Simone-Finstrom, M., Chen, Y., Healy, K.B. 2022. Honey bee genetic stock determines DWV symptom severity but not viral load or dissemination following pupal exposure. Frontiers in Genetics. 13:909392.
Stahlke, A.R., Chang, J., Chudalayandi, S., Heu, C.C., Geib, S.M., Scheffler, B.E., Childers, A.K., Fabrick, J.A. 2023. Chromosome-scale genome assembly of the pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella, a global pest of cotton. G3, Genes/Genomes/Genetics. 13(4). Article jkad040.
Palmer-Young, E., Markowitz, L.M., Grubbs, K.F., Zhang, Y., Corona, M.V., Schwarz, R., Chen, Y., Evans, J.D. 2022. Antiparasitic effects of three floral volatiles on trypanosomatid infection in honey bees. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 194:107830.
Corona, M.V., Branchiccela, B., Alburaki, M., Palmer-Young, E.C., Madella, S., Chen, Y., Evans, J.D. 2023. Decoupling the effects of nutrition, age and behavioral caste on honey bee physiology,immunity, and colony health. Frontiers in Physiology. 14: Article e1149840.
Alburaki, M., Madella, S., Cook, S.C. 2023. Non-optimal ambient temperatures aggravate insecticide toxicity and affect honey bees Apis mellifera L. gene regulation. Scientific Reports. 13. Article 3931.