Imperial Valley Press

Parasite hijacks iron in honey bees

- By KIM KAPLAN USDA Agricultur­al Research Service

BELTSVILLE, Md. — An Agricultur­al Research Service entomologi­st has discovered the Nosema ceranae parasite that causes major problems and death in honey bees works by hijacking its host’s iron for itself.

Iron is as essential a micronutri­ent for honey bees as it is for people. Honey bees usually get enough to meet their needs from their flower pollen diet. They use iron in their immune system and for reproducti­on and developmen­t. As does Nosema ceranae.

“In a number of mammal species, there is an iron tug-of-war between host and pathogen that is part of the central battlefiel­d that determines the outcome of an infection. But this has not been explored before in honey bees and not with Nosema,” entomologi­st Yan Ping “Judy” Chen explained. She is with the ARS Bee Research Laboratory here.

When Chen tracked iron in N. ceranae-infected honey bees, she found iron is also a part of the honey bee’s physiologi­cal struggle with the parasite, as it is in the mammalian system.

If honey bees lose the battle of infection with N. ceranae, the gut parasite begins to hijack the iron in the flower pollen that the honey bee has eaten before the bee can absorb it, diverting the iron into its own spore reproducti­on.

How the N. ceranae does that involves a protein called transferri­n that, in honey bees, is responsibl­e for binding and transporti­ng iron from pollen out of the gut and throughout the bee. N. ceranae uses the honey bee’s transferri­n to divert the iron to its own use, causing the honey bee to produce more and more transferri­n as the bee’s system becomes more and more starved for iron.

New studies show that Nosema ceranae, a major intracellu­lar pest of honey bees, hijacks the pollinator’s iron, diverting it to the parasite’s own needs.

“This only results in greater iron deficiency for the honey bee as the increasing transferri­n level just gives the N. ceranae the opportunit­y to scavenge even more iron from the bee host for its own proliferat­ion and survival,” Chen said.

She further found that reducing transferri­n production was accompanie­d by reduced iron loss and improved immune function and improving survival of N. ceranae-infected bees.

Since there is no truly effective treatment for N. ceranae, this study suggests a welcome possibilit­y for a new treatment that might be based on regulating iron or the synthesis of transferri­n, Chen added. This will be of interest for beekeepers, researcher­s and policymake­rs worldwide.

N. ceranea is one of the major parasite problems causing beekeepers’ colony losses today. It is a microspori­dia, a member of a group of single-celled parasites closely related to fungi. Originally, N. ceranae was a parasite only of Asian honey bees (Apis cerana). But in the late 1990s, it jumped species to the European honey bees (Apis mellifera) that we have in the United States.

 ?? COURTESY PHOTO USDA AGRICULTUR­AL RESEARCH SERVICE ?? New studies show that Nosema ceranae, a major intracellu­lar pest of honey bees, hijacks the pollinator’s iron, diverting it to the parasite’s own needs.
COURTESY PHOTO USDA AGRICULTUR­AL RESEARCH SERVICE New studies show that Nosema ceranae, a major intracellu­lar pest of honey bees, hijacks the pollinator’s iron, diverting it to the parasite’s own needs.

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