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Title: Transcriptional markers of sub-optimal nutrition in developing young Apis mellifera nurse workers

item Corby-Harris, Vanessa
item JONES, BERYL - University Of Illinois
item WALTON, ALEXANDER - Iowa State University
item Schwan, Melissa
item Anderson, Kirk

Submitted to: BMC Genomics
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/4/2014
Publication Date: 2/15/2014
Citation: Corby-Harris, V.L., Jones, B.M., Walton, A., Schwan, M.R., Anderson, K.E. 2014. Transcriptional markers of sub-optimal nutrition in developing young Apis mellifera nurse workers. Biomed Central (BMC) Genomics. 15:134. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-15-134.

Interpretive Summary: The honey bee (Apis mellifera) contributes substantially to the worldwide economy and ecosystem health. Young adult bees derive much of their dietary protein by eating pollen that is stored in the hive. As adults, pollen (protein) consumption is particularly important as these bees develop into nurses, who feed and care for the young brood. We sought to understand how this behavioral transition and sub-optimal protein intake impact gene expression in the fat body, a major nutrient storage and signaling organ. Starvation caused the down-regulation of genes involved in development, immunity, and motor function. Many genes differed in expression as bees developed into nurses and starvation appeared to cause a general dysregulation of normal age-related development. Taken together, our data offer further understanding of the gene expression changes that occur during nurse development and due to sub-optimal diet, and offer targets for future research on starvation and aging in honey bees.

Technical Abstract: Honey bees (Apis mellifera) contribute substantially to the worldwide economy and ecosystem health as pollinators. Pollen is essential to the bee’s diet, providing protein, lipids, and micronutrients. The dramatic shifts in physiology, anatomy, and behavior that accompany normal worker development are plastic and recent work demonstrates that development, particularly the transition from nurse to foraging roles, is greatly impacted by diet. However, the role of diet in the developmental transition of newly eclosed bees to nurse workers is poorly understood. To further understand honey bee nutrition and the role of diet in nurse development, we used mRNA sequencing to assay whole genome expression in the abdomens of 3 day and 8 day old worker bees fed either honey and stored pollen (rich diet) or honey alone (poor diet) within the hive. Substantial changes in gene expression occurred during early adult development and due to starvation. Diet-induced changes in gene transcription occurring in younger bees were largely a subset of those occurring in older bees, but certain signatures of starvation were only evident 8 day old workers. The aging process itself differed due to the effect of diet and is consistent with the hypothesis that poor diet causes normal age-related development to go awry. More work is certainly needed to fully understand the consequences of starvation and the complex biology of nutrition and development in this system, but the transcriptional markers found in the present study provide a starting point for mitigating the economic costs of colony starvation.