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The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) plays a major role in pollination and food production, but is under threat from emerging pathogens and agro-environmental insults. As with other organisms, honey bee health is a complex product of environment, host genetics and associated microbes (commensal, opportunistic and pathogenic). Improved understanding of bee genetics and their molecular ecology can help manage modern challenges to bee health and production. Sampling bee and cobiont genomes, we characterised the metagenome of 19 honey bee colonies across Britain. Low heterozygosity was observed in bees from many Scottish colonies, sharing high similarity to the native dark bee, A. mellifera mellifera. Apiaries exhibited high diversity in the composition and relative abundance of individual microbiome taxa. Most non-bee sequences derived from known honey bee commensal bacteria or known pathogens, e.g. Lotmaria passim (Trypanosomatidae), and Nosema spp. (Microsporidia). However, DNA was also detected from numerous additional bacterial, plant (food source), protozoan and metazoan organisms. To classify sequences from cobionts lacking genomic information, we developed a novel network analysis approach clustering orphan contigs, allowing the identification of a pathogenic gregarine. Our analyses demonstrate the power of high-throughput, directed metagenomics in agroecosystems identifying potential threats to honey bees present in their microbiota.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature Communications


Nature Research (part of Springer Nature)

Publication Date