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Microsporidia cause disease in many beneficial insects, including honey bees, yet few pathogen control tools are available for protecting these important organisms against infection. Some evidence suggests that microsporidia possess a reduced number of genes encoding DNA repair proteins. We hypothesized that microsporidia would thus be susceptible to treatment with DNA-damaging agents and tested this hypothesis using a novel, rapid method for achieving robust and homogenous experimental infection of large numbers of newly emerged honey bees with one of its microsporidia pathogens, Vairimorpha (Nosema) ceranae. In carrying out these experiments, we found this novel V. ceranae inoculation method to have similar efficacy as other traditional methods. We show that the DNA-damaging agent bleomycin reduces V. ceranae levels, with minimal but measurable effects on honey bee survival and increased expression of midgut cellular stress genes, including those encoding SHSP. Increased expression of UpdlC suggests the occurrence of epithelial regeneration, which may contribute to host resistance to bleomycin treatment. While bleomycin does reduce infection levels, host toxicity issues may preclude its use in the field. However, with further work, bleomycin may provide a useful tool in the research setting as a potential selection agent for genetic modification of microsporidia.IMPORTANCEMicrosporidia cause disease in many beneficial insects, yet there are few tools available for control in the field or laboratory. Based on the reported paucity of DNA repair enzymes found in microsporidia genomes, we hypothesized that these obligate intracellular parasites would be sensitive to DNA damage. In support of this, we observed that the well-characterized DNA damage agent bleomycin can reduce levels of the microsporidia Vairimorpha (Nosema) ceranae in experimental infections in honey bees. Observation of slightly reduced honey bee survival and evidence of sublethal toxicity likely preclude the use of bleomycin in the field. However, this work identifies bleomycin as a compound that merits further exploration for use in research laboratories as a potential selection agent for generating genetically modified microsporidia.


Parker Parrella, Annabelle B Elikan, Helen V Kogan, Fatoumata Wague, Corey A Marshalleck, Jonathan W Snow. Bleomycin reduces Vairimorpha (Nosema) ceranae infection in honey bees with some evident host toxicity. Microbiology spectrum. 2024 Feb 06;12(2):e0334923

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PMID: 38179918

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