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Molecular epidemiology and population structure of the honey bee brood pathogen Melissococcus plutonius

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Giles Budge, Dr Mark ShirleyORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Melissococcus plutonius is the causative agent of European foulbrood (EFB), which is a serious brood disease of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). EFB remains a threat because of a poor understanding of disease epidemiology. We used a recently published multi-locus sequence typing method to characterise 206 M. plutonius isolates recovered from outbreaks in England and Wales over the course of 2 years. We detected 15 different sequence types (STs), which were resolved by eBURST and phylogenetic analysis into three clonal complexes (CCs) 3, 12 and 13. Single and double locus variants within CC3 were the most abundant and widespread genotypes, accounting for 85% of the cases. In contrast, CCs 12 and 13 were rarer and predominantly found in geographical regions of high sampling intensity, consistent with a more recent introduction and localised spread. K-function analysis and interpoint distance tests revealed significant geographical clustering in five common STs, but pointed to different dispersal patterns between STs. We noted that CCs appeared to vary in pathogenicity and that infection caused by the more pathogenic variants is more likely to lead to honey bee colony destruction, as opposed to treatment. The importance of these findings for improving our understanding of disease aetiology and control are discussed.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Budge GE, Shirley MDF, Jones B, Quill E, Tomkies V, Feil EJ, Brown MA, Haynes EG

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: ISME Journal

Year: 2014

Volume: 8

Issue: 8

Pages: 1588-1597

Print publication date: 01/08/2014

Online publication date: 06/03/2014

Acceptance date: 18/01/2014

Date deposited: 01/10/2014

ISSN (print): 1751-7362

ISSN (electronic): 1751-7370

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2014.20


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Funder referenceFunder name
Scottish Government
Wellcome Trust
BB/I000518/1Insect Pollinator Initiative
BB/I000801/1Insect Pollinator Initiative
BB/I000836/1Insect Pollinator Initiative