Background: Bees are confronting several environmental challenges, including the intermingled effects of malnutrition and disease. Intuitively, pollen is the healthiest nutritional choice, however, commercial substitutes, such as Bee-Pro and MegaBee, are widely used. Herein we examined how feeding natural and artificial diets shapes transcription in the abdomen of the honey bee, and how transcription shifts in combination with Nosema parasitism.

Results: Gene ontology enrichment revealed that, compared with poor diet (carbohydrates [C]), bees fed pollen (P > C), Bee-Pro (B > C), and MegaBee (M > C) showed a broad upregulation of metabolic processes, especially lipids; however, pollen feeding promoted more functions, and superior proteolysis. The superiority of the pollen diet was also evident through the remarkable overexpression of vitellogenin in bees fed pollen instead of MegaBee or Bee-Pro. Upregulation of bioprocesses under carbohydrates feeding compared to pollen (C > P) provided a clear poor nutritional status, uncovering stark expression changes that were slight or absent relatively to Bee-Pro (C > B) or MegaBee (C > M). Poor diet feeding (C > P) induced starvation response genes and hippo signaling pathway, while it repressed growth through different mechanisms. Carbohydrate feeding (C > P) also elicited ‘adult behavior’, and developmental processes suggesting transition to foraging. Finally, it altered the ‘circadian rhythm’, reflecting the role of this mechanism in the adaptation to nutritional stress in mammals.

Nosema-infected bees fed pollen compared to carbohydrates (PN > CN) upheld certain bioprocesses of uninfected bees (P > C). Poor nutritional status was more apparent against pollen (CN > PN) than Bee-Pro (CN > BN) or MegaBee (CN > MN). Nosema accentuated the effects of malnutrition since more starvation-response genes and stress response mechanisms were upregulated in CN > PN compared to C > P. The bioprocess ‘Macromolecular complex assembly’ was also enriched in CN > PN, and involved genes associated with human HIV and/or influenza, thus providing potential candidates for bee-Nosema interactions. Finally, the enzyme Duox emerged as essential for guts defense in bees, similarly to Drosophila.

Conclusions: These results provide evidence of the superior nutritional status of bees fed pollen instead of artificial substitutes in terms of overall health, even in the presence of a pathogen.

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Published in BMC Genomics, v. 19, 628, p. 1-20.

© The Author(s). 2018

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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This work was supported by grant EPSCoR, EPS-0814194, from NSF.

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The raw data of the RNA-Seq datasets was deposited in Sequence Read Archive (SRA) under the submission number SUB3841514 and BioProject: PRJNA445764 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Traces/study/?acc=SRP136506).

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