Honey bee defenses could be strengthened through genes linked to stress resilience

(Photo: Nick Sloff, Penn State)

A core set of genes involved in the responses of honey bees to multiple diseases caused by viruses and parasites has been identified by an international team of researchers. The findings provide a better-defined starting point for future studies of honey-bee health, and may help scientists and beekeepers breed honey bees that are more resilient to stress.

“In the past decade, honey-bee populations have experienced severe and persistent losses across the Northern Hemisphere, mainly due to the effects of pathogens, such as fungi and viruses,” said Vincent Doublet, postdoctoral research fellow, University of Exeter. “The genes that we identified offer new possibilities for the generation of honey-bee stocks that are resistant to these pathogens.”

“Honey bees were thought to respond to different disease organisms in entirely different ways, but we have learned that they mostly rely on a core set of genes that they turn on or off in response to any major pathogenic challenge,” said Robert Paxton, professor of zoology, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research. “We can now explore the physiological mechanisms by which pathogens overcome their honey-bee hosts, and how honey bees can fight back against those pathogens.”

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