• Apis mellifera ;
  • genetic variability;
  • insertion-deletion;
  • Nosema ceranae ;
  • ribosomal small subunit;
  • RNA secondary structure;
  • single nucleotide polymorphism


To date, few organisms have been shown to possess variable ribosomal RNA, otherwise considered a classic example of uniformity by concerted evolution. The polymorphism for the 16S rRNA in Nosema ceranae analysed here is striking as Microsporidia are intracellular parasites which have suffered a strong reduction in their genomes and cellular organization. Moreover, N. ceranae infects the honeybee Apis mellifera, and has been associated with the colony-loss phenomenon during the last decade. The variants of 16S rRNA include single nucleotide substitutions, one base insertion-deletion, plus a tetranucleotide indel. We show that different gene variants are expressed. The polymorphic sites tend to be located in particular regions of the rRNA molecule, and the comparison to the Escherichia coli 16S rRNA secondary structure indicates that most variations probably do not preclude ribosomal activity. The fact that the polymorphisms in such a minimal organism as N. ceranae are maintained in samples collected worldwide suggest that the existence of differently expressed rRNA may play an adaptive role in the microsporidian.