• Open Access

Immune pathways and defence mechanisms in honey bees Apis mellifera


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J. D. Evans, USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory BARC-E Bldg 476 Beltsville, MD 20705, USA. Tel.: +1 301 504 5143; fax: +1 301 504 8736; e-mail: evansj@ba.ars.usda.gov.


Social insects are able to mount both group-level and individual defences against pathogens. Here we focus on individual defences, by presenting a genome-wide analysis of immunity in a social insect, the honey bee Apis mellifera. We present honey bee models for each of four signalling pathways associated with immunity, identifying plausible orthologues for nearly all predicted pathway members. When compared to the sequenced Drosophila and Anopheles genomes, honey bees possess roughly one-third as many genes in 17 gene families implicated in insect immunity. We suggest that an implied reduction in immune flexibility in bees reflects either the strength of social barriers to disease, or a tendency for bees to be attacked by a limited set of highly coevolved pathogens.