High throughput sequencing (HTS) of bees and pollen for bio-surveillance of agricultural and pathogens


Hewapathirana CM, Bilodeau GJ, Rott ME, Guarna MM, Pernal SF, Griffiths JS (2023) High throughput sequencing (HTS) of bees and pollen for bio-surveillance of agricultural and pathogens. Tri-Society meeting of the Canadian Phytopathological Society, the Canadian Society of Agronomy (CSA) and the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, p. 42, 17 – 21 June 2023, Ottawa, ON. https://phytopath.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Tri-Society-Conference-program-book.pdf


Due to their role in pollination, the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a vital component of agricultural systems. Bees come into contact with plant pathogens (from pollen and spores in the air) during their foraging trips. Bees are wide-ranging, capable of rapidly visiting and sampling individual plants in an agricultural setting. Managed bee species represent a central hub in agriculture that can be utilized to monitor multiple agriculturally-related pathogens. This project proposes to examine the presence of pathogens during the interactions of bees and plants by using bees and bee-collected pollen to monitor both plant and bee pathogens. Over 250 bee-specific samples have been obtained from experimental tree fruit farms across British Colombia, Ontario and Alberta. HTS technologies ( ION Torrent TM) are utilized to sequence barcode regions - Internal transcriber spacer (ITS) region for fungal identification and 16S ribosomal DNA for bacterial identification. Bioinformatics pipelines are being developed to identify pathogenic species (fungal or bacterial) that demonstrate a high risk towards the health of the plant pollinator ecosystem. Preliminary results show bee bread as a rich source for fungal pathogen detection with identifications such as Podosphaera leucotricha (Powdery mildew - apples) and Monilinia vaccinia-corymbosi (Mummy berry disease - blueberries). Bee pathogens identified in the samples include - Ascophaera apis (Chalkbrood disease) and Melissococcus plutonius (European foulbrood disease). This pilot study aims to evaluate the potential and limitations in using honeybees as a biomonitoring species for identifying major pathogenic threats to beekeeping and the Canadian agricultural sector