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Microbial Ecology of European Foul Brood Disease in the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera): Towards a Microbiome Understanding of Disease Susceptibility

1
Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
2
Department of Entomology and Center for Insect Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
3
Department of Microbiology, School of Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
4
Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Insects 2020, 11(9), 555; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090555
Received: 23 June 2020 / Revised: 17 August 2020 / Accepted: 18 August 2020 / Published: 20 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Bees and Their Symbionts)
Honey bees are vital to the agriculture of the world, but like all managed organisms, disease control has become challenging due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Alternate solutions with potential to control disease include natural compounds and probiotic supplements. Probiotic supplements in honey bees have been praised by industry, but studies applying probiotics to honey bee larval disease are lacking and technically challenging. In this study we tested the effectiveness of a demonstrated probiotic (Parasacharribacter apium strain C6) to mitigate a damaging larval disease called European Foul Brood (EFB). Based on a controlled laboratory study and two separate trials, the probiotic had no effect on EFB disease. The control groups performed as expected, validating the very sensitive lab procedure used to artificially rear honey bee larvae. Surprisingly, the probiotic provided no survival benefit to larvae in the absence of disease, contradicting past results. We discuss the difficult technique of larval rearing in the laboratory with reference to an improved experimental design introducing disease agents and potential remedies. In summary, our findings indicate that the representation of honey bee health and disease in the laboratory setting requires repeatable validation with reference to rigorous control and natural colony context.
European honey bees (Apis mellifera Linnaeus) are beneficial insects that provide essential pollination services for agriculture and ecosystems worldwide. Modern commercial beekeeping is plagued by a variety of pathogenic and environmental stressors often confounding attempts to understand colony loss. European foulbrood (EFB) is considered a larval-specific disease whose causative agent, Melissococcus plutonius, has received limited attention due to methodological challenges in the field and laboratory. Here, we improve the experimental and informational context of larval disease with the end goal of developing an EFB management strategy. We sequenced the bacterial microbiota associated with larval disease transmission, isolated a variety of M.plutonius strains, determined their virulence against larvae in vitro, and explored the potential for probiotic treatment of EFB disease. The larval microbiota was a low diversity environment similar to honey, while worker mouthparts and stored pollen contained significantly greater bacterial diversity. Virulence of M. plutonius against larvae varied markedly by strain and inoculant concentration. Our chosen probiotic, Parasaccharibacter apium strain C6, did not improve larval survival when introduced alone, or in combination with a virulent EFB strain. We discuss the importance of positive and negative controls for in vitro studies of the larval microbiome and disease. View Full-Text
Keywords: larval microbiome; honey bee microbiome; EFB disease; larvae; Melissococcus plutonius; in vitro larval rearing; Parasaccharibacter apium strain C6; probiotic larval microbiome; honey bee microbiome; EFB disease; larvae; Melissococcus plutonius; in vitro larval rearing; Parasaccharibacter apium strain C6; probiotic
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MDPI and ACS Style

Floyd, A.S.; Mott, B.M.; Maes, P.; Copeland, D.C.; McFrederick, Q.S.; Anderson, K.E. Microbial Ecology of European Foul Brood Disease in the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera): Towards a Microbiome Understanding of Disease Susceptibility. Insects 2020, 11, 555.

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