Clues to bee health found in their gut microbiome

Newswise — TORONTO, June 17, 2022 The local environment plays a critical role in the health and diversity of the gut microbiome of wild bees, which could help detect invisible stressors and early indicators of potential threats, York University scientists say in a new study.

Trying to explore a new frontier of metagenomics, the researchers sequenced the entire genomes of three species of carpenter bee, a type of wild bee, in North America, Asia and Australia. This analysis gave them insight into the gut microbiome (bacteria and fungi), the bee’s diet and viral load, as well as their environmental DNA.

Unlike social bees (such as honeybees and bumblebees), the researchers found that solitary bees get their microbiome, which is important for health, from their environment where they forage, rather than inheriting it from their nestmates. Carpenter bees dig in woody plant stems to lay eggs instead of in beehives.

“This allows them to become better bio-indicators, as they are much more sensitive to their environment,” says associate professor of the Faculty of Science Sandra Rehancorresponding author of the study, Comparative metagenomics reveals comprehensive insights into intra- and interspecific variation among wild bee microbiomespublished today in the magazine Communication biology

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

The research team also discovered crop pathogens in the microbiome of carpenter bees that were previously only found in honeybees.

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

By establishing a baseline of what a healthy microbiome looks like in wild bees, scientists can compare species across continents and populations and figure out how diseases and harmful microbiota are introduced and transmitted.

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

Researchers believe they have captured the core microbiome of carpenter bees for the first time. They found beneficial bacteria in all three carpenter bee species that aided in metabolic and genetic functions. They also discovered species Lactobacilluswhich is an essential, beneficial group of bacteria, necessary for good gut health and found in most breeds of bees. Lactobacillus may protect against common fungal pathogens, strengthen the immune system and facilitate the absorption of nutrients.

However, a recently published article in the journal Environmental DNA by Rehan and her graduate student Phuong Nguyen, Developmental microbiome of the lesser carpenter bee, Ceratina calcaratawho studied the microbiome in brood and adult carpenter bees in cities, found they were missing Lactobacillus

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

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

“We’ve tried this research approach in a few species, but we’re aiming to study dozens of wild bee species and broader comparisons are coming. These two studies are really laying the groundwork,” she says. “The long-term goal is to be able to use these tools to detect early signs of stress in wild bees and thus identify habitats that need to be restored or conserved. We are excited to build the tools for a new era of research and conservation.” wild bees.”

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

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


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