An Indiana University (IU) researcher and collaborators have published the first comprehensive analysis of the gut bacteria found in queen bees. Despite the important role of gut microbial communities -- also known the "microbiome" -- in protecting against disease, as well as the central role of the queen bees in the proper function and health of the hive, similar analyses of honey bees have previously only been performed on worker bees. Apis mellifera -- or the western honey bee -- contributes significantly to agriculture, including pollinating one out of every three mouthfuls of food globally. Understanding the role of microbes in the productivity of queen bees and the health of bee colonies may provide critical insights into the decline of bees in recent years, with colony losses as high as 40 percent over winter. The research, titled "Characterization of the Honey Bee Microbiome Throughout the Queen-Rearing Process," was published online on February 27, 2015, and will appear in print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Also contributing to the study were researchers at Wellesley College and North Carolina State University. "This might be a case in which 'mother does not know best,'" said Dr. Irene L.G. Newton, Assistant Professor of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology at IU Bloomington, who is corresponding author on the study. "In many animals, transmission of the microbiome is maternal. In the case of the honey bee, we found that the microbiome in queen bees did not reflect those of worker bees -- not even the progeny of the queen or her attendants. In fact, queen bees lack many of the bacterial groups that are considered to be core to worker microbiomes."
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