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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Antagonistic interactions between honey bee bacterial symbionts and implications for disease

Jay D Evans* and Tamieka-Nicole Armstrong

Author Affiliations

USDA-ARS Bee Research Lab, BARC-East Bldg. 476, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA

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BMC Ecology 2006, 6:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-6-4

Published: 21 March 2006



Honey bees, Apis mellifera, face many parasites and pathogens and consequently rely on a diverse set of individual and group-level defenses to prevent disease. One route by which honey bees and other insects might combat disease is through the shielding effects of their microbial symbionts. Bees carry a diverse assemblage of bacteria, very few of which appear to be pathogenic. Here we explore the inhibitory effects of these resident bacteria against the primary bacterial pathogen of honey bees, Paenibacillus larvae.


Here we isolate, culture, and describe by 16S rRNA and protein-coding gene sequences 61 bacterial isolates from honey bee larvae, reflecting a total of 43 distinct bacterial taxa. We culture these bacteria alongside the primary larval pathogen of honey bees, Paenibacillus larvae, and show that many of these isolates severely inhibit the growth of this pathogen. Accordingly, symbiotic bacteria including those described here are plausible natural antagonists toward this widespread pathogen.


The results suggest a tradeoff in social insect colonies between the maintenance of potentially beneficial bacterial symbionts and deterrence at the individual and colony level of pathogenic species. They also provide a novel mechanism for recently described social components behind disease resistance in insect colonies, and point toward a potential control strategy for an important bee disease.