Functional and Proteomic Insights into Aculeata Venoms

Toxins (Basel). 2023 Mar 16;15(3):224. doi: 10.3390/toxins15030224.


Aculeate hymenopterans use their venom for a variety of different purposes. The venom of solitary aculeates paralyze and preserve prey without killing it, whereas social aculeates utilize their venom in defence of their colony. These distinct applications of venom suggest that its components and their functions are also likely to differ. This study investigates a range of solitary and social species across Aculeata. We combined electrophoretic, mass spectrometric, and transcriptomic techniques to characterize the compositions of venoms from an incredibly diverse taxon. In addition, in vitro assays shed light on their biological activities. Although there were many common components identified in the venoms of species with different social behavior, there were also significant variations in the presence and activity of enzymes such as phospholipase A2s and serine proteases and the cytotoxicity of the venoms. Social aculeate venom showed higher presence of peptides that cause damage and pain in victims. The venom-gland transcriptome from the European honeybee (Apis mellifera) contained highly conserved toxins which match those identified by previous investigations. In contrast, venoms from less-studied taxa returned limited results from our proteomic databases, suggesting that they contain unique toxins.

Keywords: Aculeata; cytotoxicity; proteomics; sociality; venom.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees
  • Hymenoptera*
  • Proteomics
  • Toxins, Biological*
  • Transcriptome
  • Venoms / toxicity


  • Venoms
  • Toxins, Biological

Grants and funding

D.D. was supported by a CSIRO ResearchPlus CERC Fellowship. K.B. received support from UQ PhD scholarship. E.A.B.U. was supported by the Australian Research Council (DECRA Fellowship grant number DE160101142) and the Norwegian Research Council (FRIPRO-YRT Fellowship no. 287462). M.P.I. was supported by the AMAROUT Marie Curie program (291803-AMAROUT II) and the TALENTO Program by the Gov. of the Madrid Community (2018-T1/BIO-11262). H.F.K. was supported by the Science and Technology Development Fund of Macau SAR (FDCT) (0010/2021/AFJ).