Biomarkers of oxidative stress in atrazine-treated honey bees: A laboratory and in-hive study

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Virginia Tech

The decline of honey bee (Apis mellifera) colony numbers in recent years presents an economic and ecological threat to agriculture. One outstanding threat to honey bees is the unintended exposure to agricultural pesticides. Previous studies report that acute exposures to the common-use herbicide atrazine elicit oxidative stress in non-target insects; however, little information is currently available on the exposure risk of atrazine to honey bees. This project examined biochemical and molecular oxidative stress response markers of honey bees following laboratory and field treatments of atrazine. Laboratory experiments were conducted with honey bees exposed to increasing concentrations of atrazine for 24 h whereas hive experiments were conducted with bees exposed to one sub-lethal concentration of atrazine for 28 d. The overall antioxidant enzyme activities of atrazine-treated honey bees were decreased compared to the untreated honey bees in both the laboratory and hive experiments. After exposure to atrazine in the laboratory and field, semi-quantitative RT-PCR analysis of antioxidant-encoding genes reveals the differential expression of genes in atrazine-treated bees that are important for oxidative stress tolerance in the laboratory and field experiments. Here, we provide evidence that the laboratory and hive exposure of honey bees to the common-use herbicide atrazine results in oxidative stress responses that can compromise the health of bee colonies. The data will be discussed with regard to the protection of these pollinators against the untended exposure of agricultural pesticides.

Honey bee, atrazine, oxidative stress, antioxidants