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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Nutrigenomics in honey bees: digital gene expression analysis of pollen's nutritive effects on healthy and varroa-parasitized bees

Cédric Alaux1*, Christelle Dantec2, Hughes Parrinello2 and Yves Le Conte1

Author Affiliations

1 INRA, UMR 406 Abeilles et Environnement, Domaine Saint-Paul, 84914 Avignon, France

2 Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle, UMR5203 CNRS, U661 INSERM, Universités Montpellier 1 & 2, 34094 Montpellier Cedex 05, France

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:496  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-496

Published: 10 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Malnutrition is a major factor affecting animal health, resistance to disease and survival. In honey bees (Apis mellifera), pollen, which is the main dietary source of proteins, amino acids and lipids, is essential to adult bee physiological development while reducing their susceptibility to parasites and pathogens. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying pollen's nutritive impact on honey bee health remained to be determined. For that purpose, we investigated the influence of pollen nutrients on the transcriptome of worker bees parasitized by the mite Varroa destructor, known for suppressing immunity and decreasing lifespan. The 4 experimental groups (control bees without a pollen diet, control bees fed with pollen, varroa-parasitized bees without a pollen diet and varroa-parasitized bees fed with pollen) were analyzed by performing a digital gene expression (DGE) analysis on bee abdomens.

Results

Around 36, 000 unique tags were generated per DGE-tag library, which matched about 8, 000 genes (60% of the genes in the honey bee genome). Comparing the transcriptome of bees fed with pollen and sugar and bees restricted to a sugar diet, we found that pollen activates nutrient-sensing and metabolic pathways. In addition, those nutrients had a positive influence on genes affecting longevity and the production of some antimicrobial peptides. However, varroa parasitism caused the development of viral populations and a decrease in metabolism, specifically by inhibiting protein metabolism essential to bee health. This harmful effect was not reversed by pollen intake.

Conclusions

The DGE-tag profiling methods used in this study proved to be a powerful means for analyzing transcriptome variation related to nutrient intake in honey bees. Ultimately, with such an approach, applying genomics tools to nutrition research, nutrigenomics promises to offer a better understanding of how nutrition influences body homeostasis and may help reduce the susceptibility of bees to (less virulent) pathogens.