Microbiology Editor’s Choice: Antibiotic-producing bacteria isolated from a bee

Posted on March 1, 2019   by Microbiology Society

Each month, a manuscript published in our flagship journal Microbiology is chosen by a member of the Editorial Board. This month, the paper is titled ‘Phylogenetic analyses of antibiotic-producing Streptomyces sp. isolates obtained from the stingless-bee Tetragonisca angustula (Apidae: Meliponini)’ and was chosen by Professor Stephen Gordon.

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Ecological relationships between microbiota and host are areas of great interest. In this article, the authors identify novel actinobacteria that form part of the microbiota of the Mesoamerican stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula. The authors isolated 51 actinobacteria from T. angustula and their hives, the majority of which were Streptomyces. They then used scanning electron microscopy to reveal actinobacterial branching, filamentous structures associated with T. angustula. Some of the isolated actinobacteria were able to inhibit the growth of selected Gram-positive, Gram-negative and fungal pathogens. This study provides new insight into microbiota-insect relationships and uncovers a potential new source of antimicrobial products.

Phylogenetic analyses of antibiotic-producing Streptomyces sp. isolates obtained from the stingless-bee Tetragonisca angustula (Apidae: Meliponini)

Spread all over the tropics, stingless-bee species have been domesticated during millennia due to the healing properties of their honey and propolis. Ancient civilizations such as the Mayans were expert cultivators and considered these bees sacred. We are beginning to understand the roles that microbes play in these fascinating and extremely clean insect societies.

In this work, we describe the presence of the kind of bacteria known to produce most antibiotics used by humans in the nests of a Neotropical stingless-bee (Tetragonisca angustula). These microorganisms appear to produce substances with the potential to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Our analyses indicate that some of the bacteria associated with these bees are closely related to similar microbes found in many other insects, hinting at a widespread use of antibiotic-producing bacteria to protect from disease in the natural world.

We spoke with Juan Carlos (@JCCambroneroH), first author and Adrián Pinto-Tomás (@AdrianPintoT), corresponding author about their research:

What is your institution and how long have you been there?

Juan: I work for the University of Costa Rica (UCR) as an Interim Professor and a Young Researcher. I have been involved in research since 2011, when I started as an undergraduate student to be an assistant. With a degree in microbiology, I started to work at Centro de Investigación en Contaminación Ambiental (Center for Research in Environmental Pollution, CICA, UCR) in 2017, and I nowsupported courses related to Biology, Microbiolgy and Chemical Engineering.

Adrián: I am a Professor at the Biochemistry Department of the Medical School, and Principal Investigator at the Center for Research in Microscopic Structures, University of Costa Rica. I started as Faculty after completing my PhD at the University of Wisconsin in 2009.

What is your primary research area?

Juan: During my undergraduate degree, I participated in projects that focused on the symbiosis between insects and micro-organisms, biocontrol and the microbial ecology of aquatic environments in Costa Rica. However, I now also work on bioremediation and I am currently dealing with microbial degradation of organic pollutants, mainly pharmaceuticals.

Adrián: Microbial Ecology

What inspired you to research this topic?

Juan: Since I was very young, nature and my country have been my passion. Costa Rica is a small country (0,5% Earth landmass), with about a quarter made up of national parks, at least 5% of the planet's biodiversity, and almost 99% renewable energy sources. Living here easily forges an environmentalist heart.

Adrián: The biodiversity of my country, how valuable it is and how important it is to preserve, so it can help us live better lives and solve some of our most pressing societal issues such as the lack of new antibiotics crisis.

What is the most rewarding part of your research?

Juan: Researching about microbial life and its impact on the environment makes me feel like a New World explorer. My passion grows every time I read about a new alien-like ecosystem, full of diverse and rare micro-organisms. I believe that a microbiologist dealing with environmental micro-organisms is on a never-ending journey of exploration

Adrián: Interacting with passionate scientists from different disciplines and cultures.

What would you be doing if you weren't a scientist?

Juan: It is difficult to think about a life out of science, however I am sure I could have been a good chef if I had polished my passion for cooking. When I have the time, I enjoy looking for new recipes and making dinner for my friends.

Adrián: Environmental Law