Another Way We’re Killing the Bees

Another Way We’re Killing the Bees

I have a confession to make. I am hopelessly and desperately in love… with honey! Honey is the perfect additive to my peanut butter sandwiches that bring them to the next level! But in order to get honey, we need honeybees! Unfortunately for everyone honeybees are not doing so well right now. There are a huge number of known and unknown factors making bees ride the strugglebus, but researchers from the University of Texas recently published a paper highlighting just one more way bees are getting the short stick, and it has to do with antibiotics. One awful disease that bee colonies have to deal with is called American Foulbrood. This disease is caused by a bacteria that eats bee larvea before they can hatch into new bees, and it’s found almost everywhere in the world! One way that beekeepers stop Foulbrood is by treating with the antibiotic tetracycline. The paper we’re talking about today took a look at what this antibiotic is doing to the honeybee gut bacteria or its microbiota. Spoiler Alert! It’s not good for the bees. It turns out that honeybees are actually really great for studying the effects of antibiotics on the microbiota for a couple reasons. The first is that the honeybee microbiota is surprisingly similar to the human one. They get their gut bacteria from each other rather than through the environment. Just like we do! Also, the bacteria in their gut are only found there and not anywhere else. Just like the special bacteria that we have in our gut. But the second and more important reason is that they are MUCH simpler. While anywhere from 500-1,000 bacterial species can live in the human gut. Most of the honeybee bacteria is from only 8 species! That’s like the difference between planning a small dinner party versus planning a massive wedding! One of those things is much easier. So how is the antibiotic tetracycline affecting the bees? Bees from the same hive that haven’t been treated with anitbiotics have pretty similar microbiota, but bees treated with tetracycline show five times less bacteria in their gut, and they show less gut diversity overall. Of the eight core bacterial species in the bees, 4 are affected directly by tetracycline and the others show effects based on the shifting gut population. So what all of these changes mean for the bees? Well, it turns out that having a healthy and diverse microbiota is key to protecting you from infections. To find this out, these researchers took antibiotic treated bees and normal bees from the same hive and exposed them to a bacteria called Serratia that is normally found in bees. Usually this bacteria isn’t harmful, but when the bees are sick… it can cause what’s called an opportunistic infection. Serratia is in the same family as E coli and Salmonella. Neither group of bees were cool with being infected, but about 70% of the tetracycline treated bees died after five days whereas only about 25% of the untreated bees died. So while antibiotics do protect the bees from Foulbrood… antibiotic treatment seems to leave the bees primed for other infections. like how you always seem to get sick when you’re really stressed out! The antibiotic effect isn’t the only reason that bees are having a tough time right now, but it is one of the factors that we should consider if we want to keep them happy and healthy for the future! Plus by doing these kinds of studies, we’re learning more about how antibiotics affect gut microbiota, and that applies to humans too! So yeah, bees make honey. But they can also tell us so much more. Thank you so much for watching this video! I hope you enjoyed it! Hit that subscribe button if you want to see more of my videos. I put out a new video every other Friday. If you want to follow me on any of my other social media platforms, you can find all of that information in the description below. See you next time!

7 thoughts on “Another Way We’re Killing the Bees

  1. Nice explanation & contextualisation of this paper; keep up the excellent work! To those intrigued by SimpleBiologist's video, feel free to read Kasie Raymann's original paper (for free!): Disclaimer – I'm the PLOS Biology editor who handled this; PLOS is a non-profit open access publisher.

  2. Nice video! I helped our scientists at UT Austin promote this research. Glad you found it interesting enough to share in your series. Best wishes! Marc

    See our release and video here:

  3. What a great explanation of the problem! Also btw your editing and production quality has really improved in these new videos! Keep up the great work!

  4. Your pronunciation of Serratia is also a fine. It was named in honor of the Italian steamboat engineer Serafino Serrati. Thanks for making your educational videos!

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