Novel probiotic approach to counter Paenibacillus larvae infection in honey bees
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© 2019, The Author(s). American foulbrood (AFB) is a highly virulent disease afflicting honey bees (Apis mellifera). The causative organism, Paenibacillus larvae, attacks honey bee brood and renders entire hives dysfunctional during active disease states, but more commonly resides in hives asymptomatically as inactive spores that elude even vigilant beekeepers. The mechanism of this pathogenic transition is not fully understood, and no cure exists for AFB. Here, we evaluated how hive supplementation with probiotic lactobacilli (delivered through a nutrient patty; BioPatty) affected colony resistance towards a naturally occurring AFB outbreak. Results demonstrated a significantly lower pathogen load and proteolytic activity of honey bee larvae from BioPatty-treated hives. Interestingly, a distinctive shift in the microbiota composition of adult nurse bees occurred irrespective of treatment group during the monitoring period, but only vehicle-supplemented nurse bees exhibited higher P. larvae loads. In vitro experiments utilizing laboratory-reared honey bee larvae showed Lactobacillus plantarum Lp39, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, and Lactobacillus kunkeei BR-1 (contained in the BioPatty) could reduce pathogen load, upregulate expression of key immune genes, and improve survival during P. larvae infection. These findings suggest the usage of a lactobacilli-containing hive supplement, which is practical and affordable for beekeepers, may be effective for reducing enzootic pathogen-related hive losses.