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BMC Genomics. 2019 May 22;20(1):412. doi: 10.1186/s12864-019-5767-1.

Transcriptomic responses to diet quality and viral infection in Apis mellifera.

Author information

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program, Iowa State University, Ames, 50011, IA, USA.
Department of Microbiology, Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada, Ensenada, 22860, Baja California, Mexico.
Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611, FL, USA.
Econometrics and Business Statistics, Monash University, Clayton, 3800, VIC, Australia.
Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, Ames, 50011, IA, USA.
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, 50011, IA, USA.
Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, 61801, IL, USA.



Parts of Europe and the United States have witnessed dramatic losses in commercially managed honey bees over the past decade to what is considered an unsustainable extent. The large-scale loss of bees has considerable implications for the agricultural economy because bees are one of the leading pollinators of numerous crops. Bee declines have been associated with several interactive factors. Recent studies suggest nutritional and pathogen stress can interactively contribute to bee physiological declines, but the molecular mechanisms underlying interactive effects remain unknown. In this study, we provide insight into this question by using RNA-sequencing to examine how monofloral diets and Israeli acute paralysis virus inoculation influence gene expression patterns in bees.


We found a considerable nutritional response, with almost 2000 transcripts changing with diet quality. The majority of these genes were over-represented for nutrient signaling (insulin resistance) and immune response (Notch signaling and JaK-STAT pathways). In our experimental conditions, the transcriptomic response to viral infection was fairly limited. We only found 43 transcripts to be differentially expressed, some with known immune functions (argonaute-2), transcriptional regulation, and muscle contraction. We created contrasts to explore whether protective mechanisms of good diet were due to direct effects on immune function (resistance) or indirect effects on energy availability (tolerance). A similar number of resistance and tolerance candidate differentially expressed genes were found, suggesting both processes may play significant roles in dietary buffering from pathogen infection.


Through transcriptional contrasts and functional enrichment analysis, we contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying feedbacks between nutrition and disease in bees. We also show that comparing results derived from combined analyses across multiple RNA-seq studies may allow researchers to identify transcriptomic patterns in bees that are concurrently less artificial and less noisy. This work underlines the merits of using data visualization techniques and multiple datasets to interpret RNA-sequencing studies.


Honey bee; Israeli acute paralysis virus; Monofloral pollen; RNA-sequencing; Visualization

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