Send to

Choose Destination
mBio. 2015 May 19;6(3):e00193-15. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00193-15.

The Bacterium Frischella perrara Causes Scab Formation in the Gut of its Honeybee Host.

Author information

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Honeybees harbor well-defined bacterial communities in their guts. The major members of these communities appear to benefit the host, but little is known about how they interact with the host and specifically how they interface with the host immune system. In the pylorus, a short region between the midgut and hindgut, honeybees frequently exhibit scab-like structures on the epithelial gut surface. These structures are reminiscent of a melanization response of the insect immune system. Despite the wide distribution of this phenotype in honeybee populations, its cause has remained elusive. Here, we show that the presence of a common member of the bee gut microbiota, the gammaproteobacterium Frischella perrara, correlates with the appearance of the scab phenotype. Bacterial colonization precedes scab formation, and F. perrara specifically localizes to the melanized regions of the host epithelium. Under controlled laboratory conditions, we demonstrate that exposure of microbiota-free bees to F. perrara but not to other bacteria results in scab formation. This shows that F. perrara can become established in a spatially restricted niche in the gut and triggers a morphological change of the epithelial surface, potentially due to a host immune response. As an intermittent colonizer, this bacterium holds promise for addressing questions of community invasion in a simple yet relevant model system. Moreover, our results show that gut symbionts of bees engage in differential host interactions that are likely to affect gut homeostasis. Future studies should focus on how these different gut bacteria impact honeybee health.


As pollinators, honeybees are key species for agricultural and natural ecosystems. Their guts harbor simple communities composed of characteristic bacterial species. Because of these features, bees are ideal systems for studying fundamental aspects of gut microbiota-host interactions. However, little is known about how these bacteria interact with their host. Here, we show that a common member of the bee gut microbiota causes the formation of a scab-like structure on the gut epithelium of its host. This phenotype was first described in 1946, but since then it has not been much further characterized, despite being found in bee populations worldwide. The scab phenotype is reminiscent of melanization, a conserved innate immune response of insects. Our results show that high abundance of one member of the bee gut microbiota triggers this specific phenotype, suggesting that the gut microbiota composition can affect the immune status of this key pollinator species.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center