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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Gut microbiota assembly of Gotland varroa-surviving honey bees excludes major viral pathogens

Svobodova, Karolina; Maitre, Apolline; Obreg, Dasiel; Wu-Chuang, Alejandra; Thaduri, Srinivas; Locke, Barbara; de Miranda, Joachim R.; Mateos-Hernandez, Lourdes; Krejc, Alena Bruce; Cabezas-Cruz, Alejandro


The spread of the parasite Varroa destructor and associated viruses has resulted in massive honey bee colony losses with considerable economic and ecological impact. The gut microbiota has a major role in shaping honey bees tolerance and resistance to parasite infestation and viral infection, but the contribution of viruses to the assembly of the host microbiota in the context of varroa resistance and susceptibility remains unclear. Here, we used a network approach including viral and bacterial nodes to characterize the impact of five viruses, Apis Rhabdovirus-1 (ARV-1), Black Queen Cell virus (BQCV), Lake Sinai virus (LSV), Sacbrood virus (SBV) and Deformed wing virus (DWV) on the gut microbiota assembly of varroa-susceptible and Gotland varroa-surviving honey bees. We found that microbiota assembly was different in varroa-surviving and varroa-susceptible honey bees with the network of the latter having a whole module not present in the network of the former. Four viruses, ARV-1, BQCV, LSV, and SBV, were tightly associated with bacterial nodes of the core microbiota of varroasusceptible honey bees, while only two viruses BQCV and LSV, appeared correlated with bacterial nodes in varroa-surviving honey bees. In silico removal of viral nodes caused major re-arrangement of microbial networks with changes in nodes centrality and significant reduction of the networks' robustness in varroa-susceptible, but not in varroa-surviving honey bees. Comparison of predicted functional pathways in bacterial communities using PICRUSt2 showed the superpathway for heme b biosynthesis from uroporphyrinogen-III and a pathway for arginine, proline, and ornithine interconversion as significantly increased in varroa-surviving honey bees. Notably, heme and its reduction products biliverdin and bilirubin have been reported as antiviral agents. These findings show that viral pathogens are differentially nested in the bacterial communities of varroa-surviving and varroa-susceptible honey bees. These results suggest that Gotland honey bees are associated with minimallyassembled and reduced bacterial communities that exclude viral pathogens and are resilient to viral nodes removal, which, together with the production of antiviral compounds, may explain the resiliency of Gotland honey bees to viral infections. In contrast, the intertwined virus-bacterium interactions in varroa-susceptible networks suggest that the complex assembly of microbial communities in this honey bee strain favor viral infections, which may explain viral persistence in this honey bee strain. Further understanding of protective mechanisms mediated by the microbiota could help developing novel ways to control devastating viral infections affecting honey bees worldwide.


Varroa; Honey bees; Varroa-surviving; Varroa-susceptible; Microbiota

Published in

Microbiological Research
2023, Volume: 274, article number: 127418