Microbiology

Simple But Specific

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Science  13 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6091, pp. 134
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6091.134-a
CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO

Successful agricultural production is heavily dependent on bee pollinators, but key species have been suffering striking losses. Losses have been attributed to a combination of environmental change, pesticides, and pathogen pressure. Little is known about the normal microbiota of social species such as honey bees and bumble bees, except that they are distinctive. This is of interest because the microbiota plays an important role in shaping a species' nutrition and overall health. Engel et al. extended studies beyond the typical 16S rRNA analyses to develop a metabolic and functional picture of the honey bee's microbial metagenome. Although only eight bacterial species are typically present in the honey bee gut, pathway reconstruction indicated strain-specific functions, which were particularly enriched for carbohydrate metabolism and transport for dealing with a nectar diet. A suite of pectin-degrading enzymes was also prominent, perhaps for pollen digestion or for pectin detoxification. And interestingly, of the candidate new species, Snodgrasella forms an intimate layer against the bee midgut and rectum, overlaid by a thick carpet of Gilliamella, which together appear to protect against parasite invasion. Despite the specialized nature of this microflora, it shows extensive strain diversity, and further discoveries about its functional and evolutionary interactions may help us to restore the world's pollinators to good health.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109, 10.1073/pnas.1202970109 (2012).

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