Antibiotics are Harmful to Honeybees



Antibiotics are commonly used in beekeeping to prevent bacterial infections, but these drugs also come with side-effects that are not fully understood in many species. This group aims to study the effects of antibiotic treatment on the composition of gut bacteria in honeybees and effects on the bees’ overall health.

Antibiotics are commonly used to keep animals healthy by preventing bacterial infections and inhibiting the spread of unwanted germs. They are used as medicine for humans, but are also commonly administered to livestock and are even used in beekeeping. However, along with killing off the unwanted bacteria, they can disrupt “good” bacteria that play an important role maintaining health. Also, use of antibiotics is linked to antibiotic resistance and the presence of more resistant pathogens.

The gut, or intestines, is the home for many different strains of healthy bacteria that help us digest foods and defend against bad bacteria. The effects of antibiotics on the composition of bacteria in the human gut are currently being studied, but there is much less interest in this field for other species. In a study published in PLoS Biology, the authors examine the effects of antibiotics on the gut bacteria of honeybees and overall health of honeybees.

By feeding honeybees with normal syrup and other bees with syrup containing antibiotics for 5 days, the authors could analyze the effect of the antibiotics. First, the scientists noticed that the antibiotic changed the composition of the different types of bacteria in the guts of the bees, and overall lowered the total number of healthy bacteria. This effect lasted for up to the 7 days of observation. A more diversified composition of gut bacteria is known to beneficial and bees that were treated with antibiotics were seen to have less diverse gut bacteria. In addition, bees that were fed antibiotics survived for a shorter time than normal bees. The bees that were fed antibiotics died even earlier when they were fed opportunistic pathogens, germs that are normally harmless in the host but can cause disease when the host has decreased resistance.

The experiments from this study demonstrate that a commonly used antibiotic in beekeeping can greatly change the composition of bee gut bacteria and also decrease their survival. This study serves as a reminder that we should continue pursuing research related to not just human health but also the health of other species. Our impacts on the environment are often overlooked and we continue to directly, and indirectly, impact many different ecosystems. By continuing to conduct research on the ways we impact the health of different animals, we will be able to better understand our burden and influence on our surrounding environment.

Written By: Branson Chen, BHSc

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