2023 journal article
Differential bumble bee gene expression associated with pathogen infection and pollen diet
BMC GENOMICS, 24(1).
Diet and parasitism can have powerful effects on host gene expression. However, how specific dietary components affect host gene expression that could feed back to affect parasitism is relatively unexplored in many wild species. Recently, it was discovered that consumption of sunflower (Helianthus annuus) pollen reduced severity of gut protozoan pathogen Crithidia bombi infection in Bombus impatiens bumble bees. Despite the dramatic and consistent medicinal effect of sunflower pollen, very little is known about the mechanism(s) underlying this effect. However, sunflower pollen extract increases rather than suppresses C. bombi growth in vitro, suggesting that sunflower pollen reduces C. bombi infection indirectly via changes in the host. Here, we analyzed whole transcriptomes of B. impatiens workers to characterize the physiological response to sunflower pollen consumption and C. bombi infection to isolate the mechanisms underlying the medicinal effect. B. impatiens workers were inoculated with either C. bombi cells (infected) or a sham control (un-infected) and fed either sunflower or wildflower pollen ad libitum. Whole abdominal gene expression profiles were then sequenced with Illumina NextSeq 500 technology.Among infected bees, sunflower pollen upregulated immune transcripts, including the anti-microbial peptide hymenoptaecin, Toll receptors and serine proteases. In both infected and un-infected bees, sunflower pollen upregulated putative detoxification transcripts and transcripts associated with the repair and maintenance of gut epithelial cells. Among wildflower-fed bees, infected bees downregulated immune transcripts associated with phagocytosis and the phenoloxidase cascade.Taken together, these results indicate dissimilar immune responses between sunflower- and wildflower-fed bumble bees infected with C. bombi, a response to physical damage to gut epithelial cells caused by sunflower pollen, and a strong detoxification response to sunflower pollen consumption. Identifying host responses that drive the medicinal effect of sunflower pollen in infected bumble bees may broaden our understanding of plant-pollinator interactions and provide opportunities for effective management of bee pathogens.