A search for protein biomarkers links olfactory signal transduction to social immunity

Maria Marta Guarnal*, Andony P. Melathopoulos, Elizabeth Huxter, Immacolata Iovinella, Robert Parker, Nikolay Stoynov, Amy Tam, Kyung Mee Moon, Queenie W T Chan, Paolo Pelosi, Rick White, Stephen F. Pernal, Leonard J. Foster

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    28 Citations (Scopus)
    26 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: The Western honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) is a critical component of human agriculture through its pollination activities. For years, beekeepers have controlled deadly pathogens such as Paenibacillus larvae, Nosema spp. and Varroa destructor with antibiotics and pesticides but widespread chemical resistance is appearing and most beekeepers would prefer to eliminate or reduce the use of in-hive chemicals. While such treatments are likely to still be needed, an alternate management strategy is to identify and select bees with heritable traits that allow them to resist mites and diseases. Breeding such bees is difficult as the tests involved to identify disease-resistance are complicated, time-consuming, expensive and can misidentify desirable genotypes. Additionally, we do not yet fully understand the mechanisms behind social immunity. Here we have set out to discover the molecular mechanism behind hygienic behavior (HB), a trait known to confer disease resistance in bees. Results: After confirming that HB could be selectively bred for, we correlated measurements of this behavior with protein expression over a period of three years, at two geographically distinct sites, using several hundred bee colonies. By correlating the expression patterns of individual proteins with HB scores, we identified seven putative biomarkers of HB that survived stringent control for multiple hypothesis testing. Intriguingly, these proteins were all involved in semiochemical sensing (odorant binding proteins), nerve signal transmission or signal decay, indicative of the series of events required to respond to an olfactory signal from dead or diseased larvae. We then used recombinant versions of two odorant-binding proteins to identify the classes of ligands that these proteins might be helping bees detect. Conclusions: Our data suggest that neurosensory detection of odors emitted by dead or diseased larvae is the likely mechanism behind a complex and important social immunity behavior that allows bees to co-exist with pathogens.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number63
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalBMC Genomics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2015

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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