Specificity between lactobacilli and hymenopteran hosts is the exception rather than the rule

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Mar;79(6):1803-12. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03681-12. Epub 2013 Jan 4.


Lactobacilli (Lactobacillales: Lactobacillaceae) are well known for their roles in food fermentation, as probiotics, and in human health, but they can also be dominant members of the microbiota of some species of Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps). Honey bees and bumble bees associate with host-specific lactobacilli, and some evidence suggests that these lactobacilli are important for bee health. Social transmission helps maintain associations between these bees and their respective microbiota. To determine whether lactobacilli associated with social hymenopteran hosts are generally host specific, we gathered publicly available Lactobacillus 16S rRNA gene sequences, along with Lactobacillus sequences from 454 pyrosequencing surveys of six other hymenopteran species (three sweat bees and three ants). We determined the comparative secondary structural models of 16S rRNA, which allowed us to accurately align the entire 16S rRNA gene, including fast-evolving regions. BLAST searches and maximum-likelihood phylogenetic reconstructions confirmed that honey and bumble bees have host-specific Lactobacillus associates. Regardless of colony size or within-colony oral sharing of food (trophallaxis), sweat bees and ants associate with lactobacilli that are closely related to those found in vertebrate hosts or in diverse environments. Why honey and bumble bees associate with host-specific lactobacilli while other social Hymenoptera do not remains an open question. Lactobacilli are known to inhibit the growth of other microbes and can be beneficial whether they are coevolved with their host or are recruited by the host from environmental sources through mechanisms of partner choice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Host Specificity*
  • Hymenoptera / microbiology*
  • Lactobacillus / classification*
  • Lactobacillus / genetics
  • Lactobacillus / isolation & purification*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Associated data

  • GENBANK/KC354148
  • GENBANK/KC354149
  • GENBANK/KC354150
  • GENBANK/KC354151
  • GENBANK/KC354152
  • GENBANK/KC354153
  • GENBANK/KC354154
  • GENBANK/KC354155
  • GENBANK/KC354156
  • GENBANK/KC354157
  • GENBANK/KC354158
  • GENBANK/KC354159
  • GENBANK/KC354160
  • GENBANK/KC354161
  • GENBANK/KC354162
  • GENBANK/KC354163
  • GENBANK/KC354164
  • GENBANK/KC354165
  • GENBANK/KC354166
  • GENBANK/KC354167