Meet the honey bee.
The honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) is one of our most vital insect pollinators, responsible for nearly a third of our global food crops¹—from avocados to coffee to blueberries, and even cotton.
But widespread pesticide use, along with climate change, disease, and habitat loss, has contributed to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)², reducing honey bee populations at an alarming rate. If honey bees go extinct, this could trigger ripple effects of global consequences.
What’s impacting the bees?
Pesticides, pathogens, and habitat loss are three key challenges contributing to a decline in honey bee health. These factors not only affect immune function³, olfactory⁴ and foraging⁵ behaviors, reproductive vitality⁶, and nutrient processing⁷, but also contribute to an increased susceptibility to viral and parasitic infections (like Paenibacillus larvae and Melissococcus plutonius, the pathogenic bacteria responsible for American and European foulbroods⁸), and reduced exposure to nutrient diversity.
Could probiotics help the bees?
Probiotics—live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host—may be best known for their applications in human gastrointestinal health, but their potential goes far beyond the gut, and far beyond our human bodies.
Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid, came up with the hypothesis, “Probiotics aren’t just for humans. If you could use beneficial microbes to stimulate the immune response or attack the pathogens that are infecting the hives, then maybe we can help save the bees.”⁹
Fermenting the future—the BioPatty™
Dr. Reid’s team, including lead researcher and Seed Fellow, Brendan Daisley, identified a cocktail of three probiotic strains (Lactobacillus plantarum Lp39, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, and Lactobacillus kunkeei BR-1) that had demonstrated (in fruit fly models)10,11 the potential to improve innate immune response, provide resistance against infection, and reduce pesticide toxicity.
For American foulbrood specifically, existing measures largely rely on antibiotic treatment, which tends to be helpful in the short term but ineffective in the long run, and can contribute to resistance and recurrence. Beneficial bacteria offer an intriguing new approach to supporting long-term bee health and longevity.
The BioPatty™ is the first delivery method for this probiotic formulation, which utilizes a familiar format for beekeepers who routinely supplement their hives with “pollen patties”.
In a 2019 study12 published in the ISME Journal, Daisley demonstrated the potential of the BioPatty™ in supporting honey bee colonies against American foulbrood (a contributor to CCD). Hives that were administered the BioPatty™ showed significantly lower pathogen load (in both adult bees and in larvae) than those without. The field trial observations were reproduced through laboratory-controlled experiments, indicating that this 3 strain probiotic could improve honey bee survival towards P. larvae infection, directly inhibit P. larvae cells in vitro, and modulate innate immunity when an infection was experimentally triggered.
While further research is required to understand long-term impacts and whether the BioPatty™ would actually prevent American foulbrood, these initial results are promising and exciting. Additional field trials will also explore honey bee gut dysbiosis (gut imbalance), and modulation and restoration of the insect microbiome.
If we can decode the relationship between microbes and the natural world, then we can develop long-term applications to realize their potential—not only for human health, but for the greatest challenges facing our collective home.
Missing Microbes in Bees: How Systematic Depletion of Key Symbionts Erodes Immunity
Brendan A. Daisley, John A. Chmiel, Andrew P. Pitek, Graham J. Thompson, Gregor Reid
Trends in Microbiology, S0966-842X(20)30185-2; (2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2020.06.006
ABSTRACT: Pesticide exposure, infectious disease, and nutritional stress contribute to honey bee mortality and a high rate of colony loss. This realization has fueled a decades-long investigation into the single and combined effects of each stressor and their overall bearing on insect physiology. However, one element largely missing from this research effort has been the evaluation of underlying microbial communities in resisting environmental stressors and their influence on host immunity and disease tolerance. In humans, multigenerational bombardment by antibiotics is linked with many contemporary diseases. Here, we draw a parallel conclusion for the case in honey bees and suggest that chronic exposure to antimicrobial xenobiotics can systematically deplete honey bees of their microbes and hamper cross-generational preservation of host-adapted symbionts that are crucial to health.
Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees
Brendan A. Daisley, Andrew P. Pitek, John A. Chmiel, Kait F. Al, Anna M. Chernyshova, Kyrillos M. Faragalla, Jeremy P. Burton, Graham J. Thompson, Gregor Reid The ISME Journal, 14(2), 476–491; (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-019-0541-6
ABSTRACT: American foulbrood (AFB) is a highly virulent disease afflicting honey bees (Apis mellifera). The causative organism, Paenibacillus larvae, attacks honey bee brood and renders entire hives dysfunctional during active disease states, but more commonly resides in hives asymptomatically as inactive spores that elude even vigilant beekeepers. The mechanism of this pathogenic transition is not fully understood, and no cure exists for AFB. Here, we evaluated how hive supplementation with probiotic lactobacilli (delivered through a nutrient patty; BioPatty) affected colony resistance towards a naturally occurring AFB outbreak. Results demonstrated a significantly lower pathogen load and proteolytic activity of honey bee larvae from BioPatty-treated hives. Interestingly, a distinctive shift in the microbiota composition of adult nurse bees occurred irrespective of treatment group during the monitoring period, but only vehicle-supplemented nurse bees exhibited higher P. larvae loads. In vitro experiments utilizing laboratory-reared honey bee larvae showed Lactobacillus plantarum Lp39, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, and Lactobacillus kunkeei BR-1 (contained in the BioPatty) could reduce pathogen load, upregulate expression of key immune genes, and improve survival during P. larvae infection. These findings suggest the usage of a lactobacilli-containing hive supplement, which is practical and affordable for beekeepers, may be effective for reducing enzootic pathogen-related hive losses.
- Klein, A. M., Vaissière, B. E., Cane, J. H., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Cunningham, S. A., Kremen, C., & Tscharntke, T. (2007). Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 274(1608), 303–313. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2006.3721
- Goulson, D., Nicholls, E., Botias, C., & Rotheray, E.L. (2015). Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers. Science, 347(6229), 1255957. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1255957
- Brandt, A., Gorenflo, A., Siede, R., Meixner, M., & Büchler, R. (2016). The neonicotinoids thiacloprid, imidacloprid, and clothianidin affect the immunocompetence of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Journal of insect physiology, 86, 40–47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinsphys.2016.01.001
- Yang, E. C., Chang, H. C., Wu, W. Y., & Chen, Y. W. (2012). Impaired olfactory associative behavior of honeybee workers due to contamination of imidacloprid in the larval stage. PloS one, 7(11), e49472. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049472
- Yang, E. C., Chuang, Y. C., Chen, Y. L., & Chang, L. H. (2008). Abnormal foraging behavior induced by sublethal dosage of imidacloprid in the honey bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of economic entomology, 101(6), 1743–1748. https://doi.org/10.1603/0022-0493-101.6.1743
- Chaimanee, V., Evans, J. D., Chen, Y., Jackson, C., & Pettis, J. S. (2016). Sperm viability and gene expression in honey bee queens (Apis mellifera) following exposure to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid and the organophosphate acaricide coumaphos. Journal of insect physiology, 89, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinsphys.2016.03.004
- Schmehl, D. R., Teal, P. E., Frazier, J. L., & Grozinger, C. M. (2014). Genomic analysis of the interaction between pesticide exposure and nutrition in honey bees (Apis mellifera). Journal of insect physiology, 71, 177–190. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinsphys.2014.10.002
- Ansari, M. J., Al-Ghamdi, A., Nuru, A., Ahmed, A. M., Ayaad, T. H., Al-Qarni, A., Alattal, Y., & Al-Waili, N. (2017). Survey and molecular detection of Melissococcus plutonius, the causative agent of European Foulbrood in honeybees in Saudi Arabia. Saudi journal of biological sciences, 24(6), 1327–1335. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjbs.2016.10.012
- Daisley, B. A., Pitek, A. P., Chmiel, J. A., Al, K. F., Chernyshova, A. M., Faragalla, K. M., Burton, J. P., Thompson, G. J., & Reid, G. (2020). Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees. The ISME journal, 14(2), 476–491. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-019-0541-6
- Trinder, M., McDowell, T. W., Daisley, B. A., Ali, S. N., Leong, H. S., Sumarah, M. W., & Reid, G. (2016). Probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus Reduces Organophosphate Pesticide Absorption and Toxicity to Drosophila melanogaster. Applied and environmental microbiology, 82(20), 6204–6213. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.01510-16
- Daisley, B. A., Trinder, M., McDowell, T. W., Welle, H., Dube, J. S., Ali, S. N., Leong, H. S., Sumarah, M. W., & Reid, G. (2017). Neonicotinoid-induced pathogen susceptibility is mitigated by Lactobacillus plantarum immune stimulation in a Drosophila melanogaster model. Scientific reports, 7(1), 2703. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-02806-w
- Daisley, B. A., Pitek, A. P., Chmiel, J. A., Al, K. F., Chernyshova, A. M., Faragalla, K. M., Burton, J. P., Thompson, G. J., & Reid, G. (2020). Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees. The ISME journal, 14(2), 476–491.