The gut microbiome defines social group membership in honey bee colonies

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Science Advances  14 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 42, eabd3431
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd3431


In the honey bee, genetically related colony members innately develop colony-specific cuticular hydrocarbon profiles, which serve as pheromonal nestmate recognition cues. Yet, despite high intracolony relatedness, the innate development of colony-specific chemical signatures by individual colony members is largely determined by the colony environment, rather than solely relying on genetic variants shared by nestmates. Therefore, it is puzzling how a nongenic factor could drive the innate development of a quantitative trait that is shared by members of the same colony. Here, we provide one solution to this conundrum by showing that nestmate recognition cues in honey bees are defined, at least in part, by shared characteristics of the gut microbiome across individual colony members. These results illustrate the importance of host-microbiome interactions as a source of variation in animal behavioral traits.

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