A Transmissible RNA Pathway in Honey Bees

Cell Rep. 2019 May 14;27(7):1949-1959.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.04.073. Epub 2019 May 2.


Systemic RNAi, initiated by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) ingestion, has been reported in diverse invertebrates, including honey bees, demonstrating environmental RNA uptake that undermines homologous gene expression. However, the question why any organism would take up RNA from the environment has remained largely unanswered. Here, we report on horizontal RNA flow among honey bees mediated by secretion and ingestion of worker and royal jelly diets. We demonstrate that transmission of jelly-secreted dsRNA to larvae is biologically active and triggers gene knockdown that lasts into adulthood. Worker and royal jellies harbor differential naturally occurring RNA populations. Jelly RNAs corresponded to honey bee protein-coding genes, transposable elements, and non-coding RNA, as well as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These results reveal an inherent property of honey bees to share RNA among individuals and generations. Our findings suggest a transmissible RNA pathway, playing a role in social immunity and signaling between members of the hive.

Keywords: Honey bees; RNA transmission; RNAi; RNP; eRNA; environmental RNA; extracellular RNA; royal jelly; transmissible RNA; viruses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Fatty Acids / genetics
  • Fatty Acids / physiology
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / physiology
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Larva / physiology
  • RNA Interference / physiology*
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / genetics*
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*


  • Fatty Acids
  • RNA, Double-Stranded
  • royal jelly