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Differential gene expression of varroa-tolerant and varroa-susceptible honey bees (Apis mellifera) in response to Varroa destructor infestation



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The honey bee is one of the most familiar insects in the world, and plays an important role in the global economy providing essential pollination services to crops, fruit trees and vegetables. However, honey bee health is severely threatened by the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor, which feeds on the hemolymph of pupal and adult bees, resulting in loss of nutrients and circulatory fluids, decreased overall body weight and eventually the death of the bees. To investigate the molecular defense mechanisms of the honey bee against varroa mite infestation, we employed DNA microarray analysis to compare gene expression of two contrasting honey bee colony phenotypes selected from the Saskatraz breeding program. One designated as G4 is susceptible to the varroa mite, while the other designated as S88 is highly tolerant to the varroa. Total RNAs were isolated from bees at two different stages, dark-eyed pupa and adult worker, infected or non-infected with varroa mites, and used for DNA microarray analysis. The results showed that distinct sets of genes were differentially regulated in the varroa-tolerant and varroa-susceptible honey bee phenotypes, with and without varroa infestation. In both phenotypes, there were more differentially-expressed genes identified at the pupal stage than at the adult stage, indicating that at the pupal stage honey bees are more responsive to the varroa infestation than adult bees. In the phenotype comparisons, substantially more differentially-expressed genes were found in the tolerant than susceptible line, indicating that the tolerant phenotype has an increased capacity to mobilize the expression of the genes in response to varroa mite infestation. Based on function, the differentially-expressed genes could be classified into groups that are involved in olfactory signal transduction, detoxification, metabolism and exoskeleton formation, implying several possible mechanisms for the host-parasite interaction and resistance. Quantitative RT-PCR was used to confirm the data obtained from the DNA microarray hybridization. Eleven out of twelve genes selected based on the microarray data showed consistent expression patterns measured by both methods. Overall, comprehensive evaluation of the gene expression of honey bees in response to the mite infestation by DNA microarray has revealed several possible molecular mechanisms for the host defense against the pest. Identification of highly differentially expressed genes between the two phenotypes provides potential biomarkers that can be used for breeding honey bees resistant to the varroa mite.



Honey bee Varroa destructor DNA Microarray



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Food and Bioproduct Sciences


Applied Microbiology


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