Submitted to: CRC Press
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/30/2011
Publication Date: 1/2/2012
Citation: Hoffman, G.D., Eckholm, B., Anderson, K.E. 2012. Honey bee health: The potential role of microbes. In: Sammataro, D. and Yoder, J., editors. Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions. Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press. p. 1-12.
Interpretive Summary: Honey Bees carry a diverse collection of microbes in their bodies and in their food stores. Very few of these microbes are pathogenic. Instead, most play a role in the digestion and metabolism of food. The microbes might also help in food preservation and possibly pre-digestion of pollen when it is converted to bee bread. In this Chapter, we discuss beneficial microbes and their role in the nutrition and health of honey bee colonies. We provide a historical summary of work on beneficial microbes done when only culture-based techniques were possible. We then discuss new molecular and metagenomic tools and findings that can enable scientists to more deeply investigate the microbiome of honey bees and their colonies. We end with a discussion of future areas of research, and how a more thorough understanding of the interactions between honey bees and their beneficial microbes might help beekeepers improve colony health and survival.
Technical Abstract: Microbes, are a diverse group of unicellular organisms that include bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, and sometimes viruses. Bees carry a diverse assemblage of microbes (mostly bacteria and fungi). Very few are pathogenic; most microbes are likely commensal or even beneficial to the colony. Microbes play important roles in the processing and preservation of pollen. They also help prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms. This Chapter includes a description of known microbes in honey bee colonies and their role in the nutrition and health of honey bees. A historical summary of work on beneficial microbes is provided along with a discussion of new molecular and metagenomic tools to more deeply investigate the microbiome of honey bees and their colonies. Recent application of metagenomic techniques indicate that the great number of microorganisms uncovered using classic culturing techniques represent only a small portion of the actual microbiota in bees and their food. A discussion of ways that current research of the microbiome in honey bees can be greatly advanced because of the work being done in the Human Microbiome Project also is included. We are just beginning to learn about the role of microbes in the health of all organisms including honey bees. We know that many metabolic processes are not directed by host genes, but rather those of symbiotic microbes. This implies that optimum health depends on maintaining conditions that encourage the growth of those microbes needed to process food and either convert it to energy or use it to synthesize more complex molecules via anabolic pathways.