Probiotic development for bees: analyzing gut bacteria in healthy bees


Our previous RIRDC project (PRJ00057) was the first study of gut bacteria in Australian honey bees. In that study, honey bee samples were collected from hives with different nutritional profiles from around Australia. Honey bees in healthy hives contained approximately 10E7–10E8 bacteria per gram of gut. In contrast, chalkbrooddiseased hives contained bees which had significantly less gut bacteria. Experiments showed that bee gut bacterial numbers in chalkbrood hives return to normal when the hives lose chalkbrood symptoms. We found a rich diversity of bacterial species inhabiting the gut of healthy bees, with a proportion of bacteria showing strong antifungal activity against the chalkbrood pathogen. A number of these chalkbrood inhibiting antifungal bacteria were stored for future studies. We showed bacteria can be (re)introduced successfully into the bee gut through probiotic feeding, proving these bacteria have great potential to be developed as probiotics. Preliminary experiments with chalkbroodinfected hives showed that they recovered more rapidly when bees were fed sucrose solution. This was further improved when a chalkbrood inhibiting antifungal agent was added. This project is based on these exciting results and will determine the feasibility of commercialising Australian native bee gut bacteria as probiotics for bees. To do this, we need to obtain specific ecological information on the fluctuation of bacterial numbers in healthy bee guts over a year (i.e. four seasons). Then, bacterial isolates with antifungal properties will be tested in probiotic feeding experiments to identify bacteria with the best potential to be used as bee probiotics.


Honey Bee

Research Organisation

University Of Canberra

Objective Summary

Our previous RIRDC project was the first study worldwide that led to a better understanding of the importance of bee gut bacteria for maintaining a healthy hive. We isolated a large number of bacterial species from bees that show strong antifungal activity. Some of these bacteria may have the potential to be used for probiotics. However, before a commercial probiotic can be developed for bees, we need to obtain information on the ecology of bee gut bacteria in normal healthy bees. In particular we want to determine bacterial numbers in the bee gut over all the four seasons. Then we will perform probiotic feeding experiments using bacteria from our collection of bee gut antifungal bacteria to identify the best candidates for commercialisation. The expected scientific outcomes are: 1. Data on the variation in gut bacterial numbers in normal healthy bees during a full year, i.e. over the four seasons. 2. Characterisation of the antifungal properties of bee gut bacteria that were isolated in the previous RIRDC project. The information gained will be used to select the best candidate bacteria for subsequent probiotic experiments in the field. 3. Results from probiotic feeding studies will reveal which candidate bacteria can be successfully (re)introduced into and maintained in the bee gut. 4. Identifying bacterial species/strains that show good potential for the development of commercial bee probiotics. The proposed project builds on a previous RIRDC project and will determine the feasibility of developing bacteria as probiotics for bees.

Project Code


Project Stage


Project Start Date

Friday, July 13, 2018

Project Completion Date

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Journal Articles From Project

Not Available

National Priority

Safeguarding Australia

National Priority


National Priority

HBE-Improve understanding of nutrition best practice and disease interaction