Honey as a Source of Environmental DNA for the Detection and Monitoring of Honey Bee Pathogens and Parasites

Vet Sci. 2020 Aug 15;7(3):113. doi: 10.3390/vetsci7030113.


Environmental DNA (eDNA) has been proposed as a powerful tool to detect and monitor cryptic, elusive, or invasive organisms. We recently demonstrated that honey constitutes an easily accessible source of eDNA. In this study, we extracted DNA from 102 honey samples (74 from Italy and 28 from 17 other countries of all continents) and tested the presence of DNA of nine honey bee pathogens and parasites (Paenibacillus larvae, Melissococcus plutonius, Nosema apis, Nosema ceranae, Ascosphaera apis,Lotmaria passim, Acarapis woodi, Varroa destructor, and Tropilaelaps spp.) using qualitative PCR assays. All honey samples contained DNA from V. destructor, confirming the widespread diffusion of this mite. None of the samples gave positive amplifications for N. apis, A. woodi, and Tropilaelaps spp. M. plutonius was detected in 87% of the samples, whereas the other pathogens were detected in 43% to 57% of all samples. The frequency of Italian samples positive for P. larvae was significantly lower (49%) than in all other countries (79%). The co-occurrence of positive samples for L. passim and A. apis with N. ceranae was significant. This study demonstrated that honey eDNA can be useful to establish monitoring tools to evaluate the sanitary status of honey bee populations.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; DNA analysis; Lotmaria passim; Melissococcus plutonius; Nosema ceranae; Tropilaelaps; Varroa destructor; epidemiology; health; pathology.