A diverse range of novel RNA viruses in geographically distinct honey bee populations

Emily J. Remnant*, Mang Shi, Gabriele Buchmann, Tjeerd Blacquière, Edward C. Holmes, Madeleine Beekman, Alyson Ashe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the diversity and consequences of viruses present in honey bees is critical for maintaining pollinator health and managing the spread of disease. The viral landscape of honey bees (Apis mellifera) has changed dramatically since the emergence of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor, which increased the spread of virulent variants of viruses such as deformed wing virus. Previous genomic studies have focused on colonies suffering from infections by Varroa and virulent viruses, which could mask other viral species present in honey bees, resulting in a distorted view of viral diversity. To capture the viral diversity within colonies that are exposed to mites but do not suffer the ultimate consequences of the infestation, we examined populations of honey bees that have evolved naturally or have been selected for resistance to Varroa. This analysis revealed seven novel viruses isolated from honey bees sampled globally, including the first identification of negative-sense RNA viruses in honey bees. Notably, two rhabdoviruses were present in three geographically diverse locations and were also present in Varroa mites parasitizing the bees. To characterize the antiviral response, we performed deep sequencing of small RNA populations in honey bees and mites. This provided evidence of a Dicer-mediated immune response in honey bees, while the viral small RNA profile in Varroa mites was novel and distinct from the response observed in bees. Overall, we show that viral diversity in honey bee colonies is greater than previously thought, which encourages additional studies of the bee virome on a global scale and which may ultimately improve disease management.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00158-17
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Arthropod vectors
  • Insect viruses
  • Metagenomics
  • Negative-strand RNA virus
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Plus-strand RNA virus
  • RNA interference


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