Pollen Reverses Decreased Lifespan, Altered Nutritional Metabolism and Suppressed Immunity in Honey Bees ( Apis mellifera) Treated With Antibiotics

J Exp Biol. 2019 Apr 5;222(Pt 7):jeb202077. doi: 10.1242/jeb.202077.


Nutrition is involved in regulating multiple aspects of honey bee biology such as caste, immunity, lifespan, growth and behavioral development. Deformed wing virus (DWV) is a major pathogenic factor which threatens honey bee populations, and its replication is regulated by the nutrition status and immune response of honey bees. The alimentary canal of the honey bee is home to a diverse microbial community that provides essential nutrients and serves to bolster immune responses. However, to what extent gut bacteria affect honey bee nutrition metabolism and immunity with respect to DWV has not been investigated fully. In this study, newly emerged worker bees were subjected to four diets that contained (1) pollen, (2) pollen and antibiotics, (3) neither pollen nor antibiotics or (4) antibiotics alone. The expression level of two nutrition genes target of rapamycin (tor) and insulin like peptide (ilp1), one nutritional marker gene vitellogenin (vg), five major royal jelly protein genes (mrjp1-5), one antimicrobial peptide regulating gene relish (rel), and DWV virus titer and its replication intermediate, negative RNA strand, were determined by qRT-PCR from the honey bees at 7 days post-antibiotic treatment. Additionally, honey bee head mass and survival rate were measured. We observed that antibiotics decreased the expression of tor and rel, and increased DWV titer and its replication activity. Expression of ilp1, mrjp1-5 and vg, and honey bee head mass were also reduced compared with bees on a pollen diet. Antibiotics also caused a significant drop in survivorship, which could be rescued by addition of pollen to the diet. Of importance, pollen could partially rescue the loss of vg and mrjp2 while also increasing the head mass of antibiotic-treated bees. Our results illuminate the roles of bacteria in honey bee nutrition, metabolism and immunity, which confer the ability to inhibit virus replication, extend honey bee lifespan and improve overall health.

Keywords: DWV; Deformed wing virus; Gut bacteria; Immunity; Nutrition metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Bees / immunology*
  • Bees / microbiology*
  • Bees / virology
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Gene Expression
  • Head / anatomy & histology
  • Penicillins / administration & dosage
  • Pollen*
  • RNA Viruses / growth & development
  • Streptomycin / administration & dosage


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Penicillins
  • Streptomycin

Supplementary concepts

  • Deformed wing virus