Did you know that greater genetic diversity among honey bee workers lends itself to the greater health of the colony? A new study led by assistant professor Irene L.G. Newton of Indiana University Bloomington and Assistant professor Heather Mattila of Wellesley College on communities of active bacteria harbored by honey bees has shed more light on this fact.
The duo’s research has identified for the first time, important food-processing groups of organisms in honey bee colonies that have previously only been associated with other animals, including humans. The four microbes that stand out are Succinivibrio, Oenococcus, Paralactobacillus, and Bifidodacterium, with the first two being dominant. The presence of these organisms can be directly tied the act of a queen bee mating with many drones.
So, what does this mean? It means that with a larger amount of probiotic activity taking place in a hive, the better the health of the bees.
Newton stated, “What we observed in our work was that there was less likelihood of potentially pathogenic bacteria showing up in genetically diverse honey bee colonies compared to genetically uniform colonies.”
Newton and Mattila were able to sample and classify over 75,000 genetic sequences for bacterial genera from 10 genetically consistent colonies and 12 diverse colonies by examining a specific molecule found in the bees’ RNA.
“What we found was that genetically diverse colonies have a more diverse, healthful, active bacterial community—a greater number and diversity of bacterial sequences affiliated with beneficial genera were found in genetically diverse colonies,” Newton says.
“Conversely, genetically uniform colonies had a higher activity of potential plant and animal pathogens in their digestive tract—127 percent higher than workers from genetically diverse colonies.”
The researchers believe that their finding will have an impact on how bee hives are managed all over the world, but will also explain the advantages that multiple partner breeding has for honey bees.