Field-Realistic Tylosin Exposure Impacts Honey Bee Microbiota and Pathogen Susceptibility, Which Is Ameliorated by Native Gut Probiotics

Microbiol Spectr. 2021 Sep 3;9(1):e0010321. doi: 10.1128/Spectrum.00103-21. Epub 2021 Jun 23.


Antibiotics have been applied to honey bee (Apis mellifera) hives for decades to treat Paenibacillus larvae, which causes American foulbrood disease and kills honey bee larvae. One of the few antibiotics approved in apiculture is tylosin tartrate. This study examined how a realistic hive treatment regimen of tylosin affected the gut microbiota of bees and susceptibility to a bacterial pathogen. Tylosin treatment reduced bacterial species richness and phylogenetic diversity and reduced the absolute abundances and strain diversity of the beneficial core gut bacteria Snodgrassella alvi and Bifidobacterium spp. Bees from hives treated with tylosin died more quickly after being fed a bacterial pathogen (Serratia marcescens) in the laboratory. We then tested whether a probiotic cocktail of core bee gut species could bolster pathogen resistance. Probiotic exposure increased survival of bees from both control and tylosin-treated hives. Finally, we measured tylosin tolerance of core bee gut bacteria by plating cultured isolates on media with different tylosin concentrations. We observed highly variable responses, including large differences among strains of both S. alvi and Gilliamella spp. Thus, probiotic treatments using cultured bee gut bacteria may ameliorate harmful perturbations of the gut microbiota caused by antibiotics or other factors. IMPORTANCE The antibiotic tylosin tartrate is used to treat honey bee hives to control Paenibacillus larvae, the bacterium that causes American foulbrood. We found that bees from tylosin-treated hives had gut microbiomes with depleted overall diversity as well as reduced absolute abundances and strain diversity of the beneficial bee gut bacteria Snodgrassella alvi and Bifidobacterium spp. Furthermore, bees from treated hives suffered higher mortality when challenged with an opportunistic pathogen. Bees receiving a probiotic treatment, consisting of a cocktail of cultured isolates of native bee gut bacteria, had increased survival following pathogen challenge. Thus, probiotic treatment with native gut bacteria may ameliorate negative effects of antibiotic exposure.

Keywords: dysbiosis; honey bee; microbiota; probiotics; tylosin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bees / drug effects
  • Bees / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Paenibacillus / drug effects
  • Phylogeny
  • Probiotics / pharmacology*
  • Tylosin / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Tylosin