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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Apr;78(8):2830-40. doi: 10.1128/AEM.07810-11. Epub 2012 Feb 3.

Establishment of characteristic gut bacteria during development of the honeybee worker.

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  • 1Center for Insect Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USAa; Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.


Previous surveys have shown that adult honeybee (Apis mellifera) workers harbor a characteristic gut microbiota that may play a significant role in bee health. For three major phylotypes within this microbiota, we have characterized distributions and abundances across the life cycle and among gut organs. These distinctive phylotypes, called Beta, Firm-5, and Gamma-1 (BFG), were assayed using quantitative PCR, fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) microscopy, and the experimental manipulation of inoculation routes within developing bees. Adult workers (9 to 30 days posteclosion) contained a large BFG microbiota with a characteristic distribution among gut organs. The crop and midgut were nearly devoid of these phylotypes, while the ileum and rectum together contained more than 95% of the total BFG microbiota. The ileum contained a stratified community in which the Beta and Gamma-1 phylotypes dominated, filling the longitudinal folds of this organ. Deep sequencing of 16S rRNA genes showed clear differences among communities in midgut, ileum, and rectum. In contrast with older workers, larvae and newly emerged workers contain few or no bacteria, and their major food source, bee bread, lacks most characteristic phylotypes. In experiments aimed at determining the route of inoculation, newly emerged workers (NEWs) sometimes acquired the typical phylotypes through contact with older workers, contact with the hive, and emergence from the brood cell; however, transmission was patchy in these assays. Our results outline a colonization pattern for the characteristic phylotypes through A. mellifera ontogeny. We propose the names "Candidatus Snodgrassella alvi" and "Candidatus Gilliamella apicola" for the Beta and Gamma-1 phylotypes, respectively.

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