DNA in Honey Reveals Honey Bee Health

DNA contained in honey reveals honey bee health

by Biomedical Sciences Research Center Alexander Fleming

Honeybee harvesting pollen and carrying it to its pollen basket. Credit: Yannis Varouhakis

Researchers from the B.S.R.C. “Alexander Fleming” in Greece have optimized a method to characterize DNA traces in honey, revealing the species that honeybees interact with. This collaborative work led by researcher Dr. Solenn Patalano allowed the monitoring of the variability of bee diets across the year, revealing bee microbiota in a non-invasive way, as well as identifying pathogenic species they are confronted by. The research study is published in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources and, while at an early exploratory stage, it may revolutionize the way we understand honeybee ecological niches

Why is understanding the honeybee’s ecological niche important?

What defines an organism’s ecological niche is a delicate balance of interactions and adjustments to other species coexisting within the same habitat. By pollinating trees and flowers, honeybees exploit a large number of flowering plant species for their own food resources and growth. On the other hand, honeybee colonies are also weakened when environmental conditions favor the propagation of pathogenic species, such as Varroa mites. The species dynamics of the honeybee ecological niche are therefore inextricably linked with the type of habitat the bees live in and its seasonal changes.

Faced with the increasing restructuring of agricultural areas and the effects of climate change, bee ecological niches are becoming more vulnerable. A better understanding of the dynamics of interactions between bees and surrounding species will help to identify risk periods and zones for bees. “This is extremely important in rural and agricultural environments, where species interactions influence the productivity of crops. It’s compelling how much of our food and survival depends on the proper functioning of tiny insects,” commented Anastasios Galanis, the first author of the study.

Honey, a unique marker of environmental plant diversity…

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DNA contained in honey reveals honeybee health (phys.org)

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