Functional and evolutionary insights into the simple yet specific gut microbiota of the honey bee from metagenomic analysis

Yale University
Gut Microbes 10/2012; 4(1). DOI: 10.4161/gmic.22517
Source: PubMed


The honey bee, Apis mellifera, harbors a characteristic gut microbiota composed of only a few species which seem to be specific to social bees. The maintenance of this stable and distinct microbial community depends on the social lifestyle of these insects. As in other animals, the bacteria in the gut of honey bees probably govern important functions critical to host health. We recently sequenced a metagenome of the gut microbiota of A. mellifera, assigned gene contents to bins corresponding to the major species present in the honey bee gut, and compared functional gene categories between these species, and between the complete metagenome and those of other animals. Gene contents could be linked to different symbiotic functions with the host. Further, we found a high degree of genetic diversity within each of these species. In the case of the gammaproteobacterial species Gilliamella apicola, we could experimentally show a link between genetic variation of isolates and functional differences suggesting that niche partitioning within this species has emerged during evolution with its bee hosts. The consistent presence of only a few species, combined with strain variation within each of these species, makes the gut microbiota of social bees an ideal model for studying functional, structural, and evolutionary aspects of host-associated microbial communities: many characteristics resemble the gut microbiota of humans and other mammals, but the complexity is considerably reduced. In this addendum, we summarize and discuss our major findings and provide a detailed perspective on future research.

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