This investigation concerned the question of whether honeybees collect bacteria that are beneficial for humans from the flowers that contribute to formation of their honey. Bacteria originating from the types of flowers involved, and found in different anatomic parts of the bees, in larvae, and in honey of different types, were sampled during a 2-year period. 16S rRNA sequencing of isolates and clones was employed. A novel bacterial flora composed of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) of the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which originated in the honey stomach of the honeybee, was discovered. It varied with the sources of nectar and the presence of other bacterial genera within the honeybee and ended up eventually in the honey. It appeared that honeybees and the novel LAB flora may have evolved in mutual dependence on one another. It was suggested that honey be considered a fermented food product because of the LAB involved in honey production. The findings are seen as having clear implications for future research in the area, as providing a better understanding the health of honeybees and of their production and storage of honey, and as having clear relevance for future honeybee and human probiotics.
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This study was financed by Gyllenstiernska Krapperupstiftelsen, Ekhagastiftelsen and Sparbankstiftelsen Skåne. We are grateful for the help of the beekeeper Tage Kimblad, late assistant Prof. Sten Ståhl and others for their knowledge and experience, and for their comments and reflections on our work.
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