Research roundup: Can worker bees infect the queen with viruses?

July 6, 2020

Worker honeybees feed, groom, and tend to the queen throughout her lifetime, which could theoretically provide an opportunity for pathogens to spread from the workers to the queen. As a result, scientists suspect that the queen may carry similar viruses to the ones carried by the worker bees in her colony. A team of researchers led by Declan Schroeder, PhD, recently published a study exploring similarities between pathogens found in worker bees and queens and analyzing pathogen transmission from workers to queens. The researchers took queens from 42 colonies and relocated them into unrelated foster colonies. Worker samples were taken from the source colony on the day of queen exchange and the queens were collected 24 days after introduction. All samples were screened for six of the most impactful pathogens in beekeeping. The researchers found that honey bee pathogen presence and diversity in queens cannot be revealed from screening workers, nor were pathogens successfully transmitted to the queen. The results of this study reveal that the pathogen profile of a newly introduced queen does not reflect that of the resident workers. Future experiments should focus on how queens become infected with viral pathogens, since worker bees have been ruled out as a potential source of infection for queens. This is especially important because, according to the research team, queens are key vectors for vertical transmission within colonies.

Read more in the June 16 paper published in MPDI.