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Can worker bees infect the queen with viruses?

  • bees in a hive

    Can worker bees infect the queen with viruses?

    Photo by Boba Jaglicic

This summer, a team of researchers led by Declan Schroeder, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, published a study exploring similarities between pathogens found in worker bees and queens, and analyzing pathogen transmission from workers to queens.

Worker honey bees feed, groom, and tend to the queen throughout her lifetime, which could theoretically allow pathogens to spread from the workers to the queen.

As a result, scientists suspect the queen may carry similar viruses to ones carried by the worker bees in her colony. The researchers took queens from 42 colonies and relocated them into unrelated foster colonies. On the same day, worker samples were taken from the source colony. 

The queens were then collected 24 days later and screened for six of the most impactful pathogens in beekeeping. The results reveal the pathogen profile of a newly introduced queen does not reflect that of the resident workers. According to the researchers, future experiments should focus on how queens become infected with viral pathogens because worker bees have been ruled out as a potential source of infection.

This is especially important because, according to the research team, queens are key vectors for vertical transmission within colonies. General Mills and USDA-NIFA helped fund this study, which was published in MPDI.