Detoxification mechanisms of honey bees (Apis mellifera) resulting in tolerance of dietary nicotine

21 Aug 2015

Insecticides are thought to be among the major factors contributing to current declines in bee populations. However, detoxification mechanisms in healthy, unstressed honey bees are poorly characterised. Alkaloids are naturally encountered in pollen and nectar, and we used nicotine as a model compound to identify the mechanisms involved in detoxification processes in honey bees. Nicotine and neonicotinoids have similar modes of action in insects. Our metabolomic and proteomic analyses show active detoxification of nicotine in bees, associated with increased energetic investment and also antioxidant and heat shock responses. The increased energetic investment is significant in view of the interactions of pesticides with diseases such as Nosema spp which cause energetic stress and possible malnutrition. Understanding how healthy honey bees process dietary toxins under unstressed conditions will help clarify how pesticides, alone or in synergy with other stress factors, lead to declines in bee vitality.