Multi-tiered analyses of honey bees that resist or succumb to parasitic mites and viruses

Daniel B. Weaver, Brandi L. Cantarel, Christine G. Elsik, Dawn L. Boncristiani, Jay D. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Varroa destructor mites, and the numerous viruses they vector to their honey bee hosts, are among the most serious threats to honey bee populations, causing mortality and morbidity to both the individual honey bee and colony, the negative effects of which convey to the pollination services provided by honey bees worldwide. Here we use a combination of targeted assays and deep RNA sequencing to determine host and microbial changes in resistant and susceptible honey bee lineages. We focus on three study sets. The first involves field sampling of sympatric western bees, some derived from resistant stock and some from stock susceptible to mites. The second experiment contrasts three colonies more deeply, two from susceptible stock from the southeastern U.S. and one from mite-resistant bee stock from Eastern Texas. Finally, to decouple the effects of mites from those of the viruses they vector, we experimentally expose honey bees to DWV in the laboratory, measuring viral growth and host responses. Results: We find strong differences between resistant and susceptible bees in terms of both viral loads and bee gene expression. Interestingly, lineages of bees with naturally low levels of the mite-vectored Deformed wing virus, also carried lower levels of viruses not vectored by mites. By mapping gene expression results against current ontologies and other studies, we describe the impacts of mite parasitism, as well as viruses on bee health against two genetic backgrounds. We identify numerous genes and processes seen in other studies of stress and disease in honey bee colonies, alongside novel genes and new patterns of expression. Conclusions: We provide evidence that honey bees surviving in the face of parasitic mites do so through their abilities to resist the presence of devastating viruses vectored by these mites. In all cases, the most divergence between stocks was seen when bees were exposed to live mites or viruses, suggesting that gene activation, rather than constitutive expression, is key for these interactions. By revealing responses to viral infection and mite parasitism in different lineages, our data identify candidate proteins for the evolution of mite tolerance and virus resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number720
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Apis mellifera
  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Iflavirus
  • Innate immunity
  • Pollination
  • RNA sequencing
  • varroa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


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