Genomic analysis of the interaction between pesticide exposure and nutrition in honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Daniel R. Schmehl, Peter E.A. Teal, James L. Frazier, Christina M. Grozinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Populations of pollinators are in decline worldwide. These declines are best documented in honey bees and are due to a combination of stressors. In particular, pesticides have been linked to decreased longevity and performance in honey bees; however, the molecular and physiological pathways mediating sensitivity and resistance to pesticides are not well characterized.We explored the impact of coumaphos and fluvalinate, the two most abundant and frequently detected pesticides in the hive, on genome-wide gene expression patterns of honey bee workers. We found significant changes in 1118 transcripts, including genes involved in detoxification, behavioral maturation, immunity, and nutrition. Since behavioral maturation is regulated by juvenile hormone III (JH), we examined effects of these miticides on hormone titers; while JH titers were unaffected, titers of methyl farnesoate (MF), the precursor to JH, were decreased. We further explored the association between nutrition- and pesticide-regulated gene expression patterns and demonstrated that bees fed a pollen-based diet exhibit reduced sensitivity to a third pesticide, chlorpyrifos. Finally, we demonstrated that expression levels of several of the putative pesticide detoxification genes identified in our study and previous studies are also upregulated in response to pollen feeding, suggesting that these pesticides and components in pollen modulate similar molecular response pathways.Our results demonstrate that pesticide exposure can substantially impact expression of genes involved in several core physiological pathways in honey bee workers. Additionally, there is substantial overlap in responses to pesticides and pollen-containing diets at the transcriptional level, and subsequent analyses demonstrated that pollen-based diets reduce workers' pesticide sensitivity. Thus, providing honey bees and other pollinators with high quality nutrition may improve resistance to pesticides.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-190
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science

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