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PLoS One. 2017 Nov 10;12(11):e0187505. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187505. eCollection 2017.

New evidence showing that the destruction of gut bacteria by antibiotic treatment could increase the honey bee's vulnerability to Nosema infection.

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USDA-ARS Bee research Laboratory, Beltsville, MD, United States of America.
College of Bee Science, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, Fuzhou, China.
Institute of Apicultural Research, Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, Beijing, China.
USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, AZ, United States of America.


It has become increasingly clear that gut bacteria play vital roles in the development, nutrition, immunity, and overall fitness of their eukaryotic hosts. We conducted the present study to investigate the effects of gut microbiota disruption on the honey bee's immune responses to infection by the microsporidian parasite Nosema ceranae. Newly emerged adult workers were collected and divided into four groups: Group I-no treatment; Group II-inoculated with N. ceranae, Group III-antibiotic treatment, and Group IV-antibiotic treatment after inoculation with N. ceranae. Our study showed that Nosema infection did not cause obvious disruption of the gut bacterial community as there was no significant difference in the density and composition of gut bacteria between Group I and Group II. However, the elimination of gut bacteria by antibiotic (Groups III and IV) negatively impacted the functioning of the honey bees' immune system as evidenced by the expression of genes encoding antimicrobial peptides abaecin, defensin1, and hymenoptaecin that showed the following ranking: Group I > Group II > Group III > Group IV. In addition, significantly higher Nosema levels were observed in Group IV than in Group II, suggesting that eliminating gut bacteria weakened immune function and made honey bees more susceptible to Nosema infection. Based on Group IV having displayed the highest mortality rate among the four experimental groups indicates that antibiotic treatment in combination with stress, associated with Nosema infection, significantly and negatively impacts honey bee survival. The present study adds new evidence that antibiotic treatment not only leads to the complex problem of antibiotic resistance but can impact honey bee disease resistance. Further studies aimed at specific components of the gut bacterial community will provide new insights into the roles of specific bacteria and possibly new approaches to improving bee health.

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