Evolution of host specialization in gut microbes: the bee gut as a model

Gut Microbes. 2015;6(3):214-20. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2015.1047129. Epub 2015 May 26.


Bacterial symbionts of eukaryotes often give up generalist lifestyles to specialize to particular hosts. The eusocial honey bees and bumble bees harbor two such specialized gut symbionts, Snodgrassella alvi and Gilliamella apicola. Not only are these microorganisms specific to bees, but different strains of these bacteria tend to assort according to host species. By using in-vivo microbial transplant experiments, we show that the observed specificity is, at least in part, due to evolved physiological barriers that limit compatibility between a host and a potential gut colonizer. How and why such specialization occurs is largely unstudied for gut microbes, despite strong evidence that it is a general feature in many gut communities. Here, we discuss the potential factors that favor the evolution of host specialization, and the parallels that can be drawn with parasites and other symbiont systems. We also address the potential of the bee gut as a model for exploring gut community evolution.

Keywords: Snodgrassella; coevolution; gut symbionts; host specificity; insects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Bees / microbiology*
  • Gammaproteobacteria / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Neisseriaceae / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*