Understanding the Effects of Biotic and Abiotic Factors on Honey Bee Health

2013 to 2015

This project uses cutting edge techniques to investigate host-pathogen interactions in honey bees. Honey bees are essential pollinators of numerous crops, thus recent increased annual losses of honey bee colonies is a risk to agricultural production. Colony deaths are associated with higher pathogen levels, but the specific pathogen(s) and the host and environmental factors involved remain unknown. We hypothesize that the impact of pathogens on honey bee colony health is governed by additional factors including host responses and the microbial context of infection. To test this hypothesis we will identify the host (transcriptome and metabolome) factors and microbial constituents associated with differential colony health grades (i.e., weak, average, and strong) and examine the effects of agrochemical exposure on pathogen abundance. We will employ advanced methods including ultra high throughput sequencing for transcriptome and microbiome profiling, and liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry to assess the metabolome of individuals from differentially graded or treated colonies. We expect this detailed molecular analysis to identify the combinations of genes, microbes, and metabolites that augment and lessen the effects of pathogenic infections. Increased understanding of these factors may lead to strategies that mitigate honey bee colony losses. Furthermore, discoveries of honey bee immune genes and pathways may reveal evolutionarily conserved innate immune pathways in other social organisms. 


1. Perform a network analysis of infectious and environmental factors affecting honey bee disease transmission and colony health

2. Determining the mechanisms and contributions of RNA-triggered pathways in honey bee antiviral defense.

3. Honey bee pathogen monitoring, detection and discovery with an emphasis on candidate etiologic agents of Colony Collapse Disorder,

4. Investigating the pathogenesis of the recently discovered Lake Sinai viruses.

5. Understanding the influence of the individual bee microbiome, metabolome, and transcriptome on the immune response and outcome of infections.

6.  Examining the sublethal effects of agrochemicals on honey bee health.


MSU IoE Office

Montana State University
605 Leon Johnson Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-2374
MSU Director: Bruce Maxwell

UM IoE Office

The Universityi of Montana

The University of Montana
Davidson Honors College
Missoula, MT 59812
(406) 243-6058
UM Director: Maury Valett


Montana University System

Montana University System

Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
2500 Broadway Street
Helena, MT 59620