Pro-Bee 34

The Swedish Discovery of Microbiota in Bees

4 min read

Simon Supernormal

Reviewed by: Joanna Elmes

Eighteen years ago, two Swedish scientists at Lund University discovered bacterial symbionts within honeybees as a novel microbiota composed of collaborating lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. The symbionts were shown to be an indispensable key in honey production and present alive in all honeybees and only in their freshly produced honey around the world. This is one of the greatest and most conserved symbiotic microbiota ever found in a single organism that scientifically explains why honey has been used against infections.


The honey stomach microbiota is composed of 13 different bacteria, with a very unique property. They work together, with each bacterium capable of producing distinct antibacterial substances when needed and in the right amounts. Through evolution, these bacteria have developed mechanisms to protect their niche and enable honeybees to combat microbial threats introduced during nectar and pollen foraging.




The honeybee species known as Apis mellifera mellifera was classified by the Swedish “father of modern taxonomy” Carl von Linné in 1758. However, honeybees have existed as long as flowers, relying on pollination for millions of years. Throughout history, honeybees have played a crucial role, providing us with honey and pollination services. It may even be so, that the increasing knowledge on honey’s antibacterial properties may father alternatives to antibiotics in the face of antibiotic resistance. From flowers, honeybees gather (forage) nectar and pollen, essential food sources for the whole honeybee colony from which they produce honey and bee bread.


The discovery at Lund University took place in 2005 and revealed that beneficial bacteria do end up in honey during production process within beehives. Interestingly, honeybees themselves inoculate their honey with these bacteria to standardize their food production. Inside the honey stomach of honeybees, researchers Olofsson and Vásquez (2008) identified a diverse microbiota consisting of nince species of Lactobacillus and four species of Bifidobacterium (Olofsson et al., 2014a,b).


Mechanisms of Action


Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are known producers of biomolecules with antimicrobial properties, such as organic acids, bacteriocins, antimicrobial proteins, and volatiles. Thus, the scientists conducted studies to investigate the production of these bioactive molecules by the honey stomach microbiota. Their aim was to understand how these substances interact with each other and with their host, the honeybees. As expected, all the 13 strains produced varying levels of organic acids including lactic, acetic, and formic acids (Olofsson et al., 2014a,b). These 13 patented strains, along with bee pollen and fermented honey, are now the main ingredients in Supernormals Pro-bee.