Clues to bee health are found in their gut microbiome

Clues to bee health are found in their gut microbiome

Newswise – TORONTO, June 17, 2022 – The local environment plays a crucial role in the health and diversity of the intestinal microbiome in wild bees, which can help detect invisible stressors and early indicators of potential threats, says researchers from York University in a new study.

By piloting a new frontier of metagenomics, the researchers sequenced the entire genome from three species of carp, a type of wild bee, in North America, Asia and Australia. This analysis enabled them to gain insights into the bee’s intestinal microbiome (bacteria and fungi), diet and viral load, as well as their environmental DNA.

Unlike social bees (such as honey bees and bumblebees), researchers found that solitary bees get their microbiome, which is important for health, from their environment where they forge for food, rather than inheriting it from their book mates. Carpenters dig into woody stalks to lay eggs rather than in hives.

“This can make them better bio-indicators because they are much more sensitive to their environment,” says the associate professor of the Faculty of Science. Sandra Rehancorresponding author of the research, Comparative metagenomics reveals expanded insights on intra- and interspecific variation among wild bimicrobiomaspublished today in the journal Communication Biology.

In Australia, the local population had very distinct metagenomics and microbiomes; so much so that machine learning tools could reliably predict from which population each bee was drawn.

The research group also discovered plant pathogens in carpenter’s microbiomes that were previously only found in honey bees.

“These pathogens are not necessarily harmful to bees, but these wild bees can potentially infect diseases that can have adverse effects on agriculture,” says Rehan. Finding out how these pathogens spread in wild bees is important because bees contribute to ecological and agricultural health worldwide in addition to more than $ 200 billion in annual agricultural services.

Establishing a baseline for what a healthy microbiome looks like in wild bees enables researchers to compare species across continents and populations and find out how diseases and harmful microbiota are introduced and transmitted.

“We can really dissect bee health in a very systematic way and look at population genetics and parasitic pathogen loads, healthy microbiomes and abnormalities,” said Rehan, whose postdoctoral research assistant, Wyatt Shell, led the study. “The long-term goal is really to be able to use these tools to also be able to detect early signs of stress and habitats in need of restoration or preservation. To develop it almost as a diagnostic tool for bee health. ”

Researchers believe that they have captured the nuclear microbiome of carpenters for the first time. They found beneficial bacteria in all three carpenter species that helped with metabolic and genetic functions. They also discovered species of Lactobacilluswhich is an important beneficial bacterial group, absolutely essential for good intestinal health and is found in most car lines. Lactobacillus can protect against common fungal pathogens, strengthen the immune system and facilitate nutrient uptake.

But a recently published article in the magazine Environmental DNA by Rehan and her PhD student Phuong Nguyen, Development microbiome in the small carpentry shop, Ceratina calcaratawho studied the microbiome of fry and adult carpenters in cities, found that they were missing Lactobacillus.

“This raises red flags,” says Rehan. “We continue these studies to look at more nuanced comparisons of urban, rural and long-term data to truly understand these environmental stressors. Each time we characterize a microbiome and see deviations from what we know is normal, it can give us an indication of a population or endangered species. “

Taken together, the results show that metagenomic methods can provide important insights into the ecology and health of wild bees in the future.

“We have tested this research method for a few species, but we aim to study dozens of wild bee species and broader comparisons will come. These two studies really lay the foundation,” she says. “The long-term goal is really to be able to use these tools to detect early signs of stress in wild bees and thereby identify habitats that need to be restored or preserved. We are happy to build the tools for a new era of research and conservation of wild bees. ”

The work was funded by NSERC Discovery Grants, Weston Family Foundation Microbiome Initiative Funds and NSERC EWR Steacie Memorial Fellowship to Rehan.


York University is a modern, multi-campus, urban university located in Toronto, Ontario. With the support of a diverse group of students, teachers, staff, alumni and partners, we bring a unique global perspective to help solve societal challenges, drive positive change and prepare our students for success. York’s fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario’s Center of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education. York’s campuses in Costa Rica and India offer students exceptional transnational learning opportunities and innovative programs. Together we can do things right for our societies, our planet and our future.

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