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article imageCan probiotics help stop honeybee colony collapse? Special

By Tim Sandle     Feb 4, 2019 in Science
SeedLabs is focused on solving ecological problems, like honeybee colony collapse. The company has developed a BioPatty,TM a blend of probiotics for honeybees, that has demonstrated success in prevention and treatment of a fatal bacterial disease.
The probiotic has been developed to help honeybees tackle American Foulbrood (caused by the spore-forming bacteria Paenibacillus larvae ssp. larvae), a disease decimating the population of the world's most important pollinators. The development required an understanding of the microbiome of the honeybee.
The probiotic comes from the company Seed, which works on both human and planetary health. The product has been developed by the environmental R+D arm of the company called SeedLabs. Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid, who led the panel of experts commissioned by the UN/World Health Organization set up to define 'probiotics', explains more.
Digital Journal: How would you define the microbiome?
Dr. Gregor Reid: The microbiome is the collective genetic material of all the microorganisms (mostly bacteria, but also fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that live in and on your body. The majority reside in your gastrointestinal tract, primarily in your colon or ‘gut’, but many live in other ecosystems of your body like your mouth, skin, vagina, and armpits. They constitute approximately 50 percent of you by cell count—an invisible, but powerful half.
DJ: Why has microbiome research accelerated in recent years?
Reid: For over a century, we feared bacteria. But our obsession with hygiene combined with modern living and our daily choices—think, antibiotics, sugar, diet and stress... disrupted sleep, city-living, NSAIDs, and more—have all had unintended consequences, impacting our ecosystems within.
We now know that 99 percent of these bacteria are harmless. In fact, many of the ones that make up our microbiome are essential, performing critical roles in and on our bodies—from aiding in digestion, to modulating immune responses, to the synthesis of key vitamins, metabolites, and neurotransmitters.
More recently, the decreasing cost of whole genome sequencing and significant increases in funding with initiatives like the Human Microbiome Project, have accelerated microbiome research at a speed almost unheard of in science, with new discoveries unveiling new associations between our microbiome and our health almost every day.
Scientists can now characterize distinct species and strains and start to understand how microbes play a functional role in our health, our environment, our soil, nutrition, and in the prevention and treatment of disease and even how they may be key to our survival in space and the discovery of new life.
In the coming years, microbiome science will impact almost every aspect of our lives and the choices we make for our health. As research continues, we’re committed to stewarding how that research is both advanced and translated (through both products and education) to set a new standard in consumer health.
DJ: What makes for a probiotic?
Reid: Probiotics are ‘live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host’—this globally-accepted definition was authored by a joint United Nations - World Health Organization Expert Panel, which I chaired in 2001. In other words, strains of beneficial microbes that have demonstrated efficacy in human clinical study.
As transient microbes, probiotics travel through your colon, interacting with your immune cells, gut cells, dietary nutrients, and existing bacteria to directly and indirectly deliver benefits. Some enhance the gene expressions involved in tight junction signaling, which help protect against intestinal permeability (this means tightening your gut barrier). Others trigger neurotransmitters that stimulate muscle contractions for increased motility (think: better, more regular bowel movements). And other bacteria produce byproducts or metabolites like short-chain fatty acids, which have substantial evidence demonstrating their benefits for both metabolic and immune health.
DJ: What benefits can probiotics deliver for human health?
Reid: 78 percent of Americans live with gastrointestinal issues. 68 million suffer from chronic constipation. And with 66% of consumers associating probiotics with digestive health, it’s unsurprising that probiotics are the fastest growing category of consumer health.
However, the idea that probiotics are exclusively relegated to supporting digestive health is a common misconception. Many of these organisms can provide benefits beyond digestive issues. Your body is complex and interconnected, and the gastrointestinal system sits at the core of it all. It’s connected to and influences everything from immunity and metabolic function to cardiovascular, skin, and urogenital health. So, while improvements in gut health are often the most immediate, localized, and evident (with digestion often improved in as little as 24-48 hours), our Daily Synbiotic can actually have powerful effects across the entire body. Both our female and male formulations address cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune health and the female formulation offers additional benefits in dermatological health and the production of folate in the body.
As our mindset shifts from sick care to self care, we’ve become more intentional about our diet, nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle. But we now also know that probiotics and prebiotics are powerful new tools to preventively and proactively care for our whole selves (not just our human parts).
DJ: What are the risks around bee colony collapse?
Reid: As pollinators, honey bees are critical to approximately a third of our global food crops. But widespread pesticide use, along with climate change, disease, and habitat loss, has contributed to colony collapse disorder, reducing honey bee populations at an alarming rate. Until a pesticide-free world is possible, we must find ways to spare them (and our environment) from the side effects.
DJ: What are the implications from the decline in bees?
Reid: A world without bees would be a world without honey (obviously). We’d also see harvests decline and farms falter. We’d lose many fruits and vegetables we take for granted today—think: broccoli, apples, grapes, avocados, and more. Staples like coffee, cheese, yogurt, and even cotton would be hard to come by. Our livestock—cows, sheep, and goats (their primary food source, alfalfa, requires bees for pollination)—would suffer. Grocery stores would empty out, food prices would skyrocket, and global malnutrition and famine levels would reach even new heights. Bees are at the heart of our planet's ecological processes. Without them, entire ecosystems, including ours, will flounder.
DJ: What is a BioPattyTM?
Reid: My lab, led by SeedFellow Brendan Daisley, has identified probiotic strains that increase immune resilience through a pathway that insects use to adapt to infection, heat, and other stresses. Delivery via our probiotic BioPatties™ shows immense potential in tempering the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides, improving survival rates, and restoring honey bee populations around the world. These probiotic BioPatties™ have also shown success in the prevention and treatment of a fatal bacterial disease called American foulbrood, caused by a spore forming bacterium called P. larvae.
DJ: How have you tested out BioPattyTM? Has the research been peer reviewed?
Reid: Ongoing research led by myself and SeedFellow Brendan Daisley, has shown the BioPattyTM can reduce P. larvae abundance in honey bees under both laboratory-controlled and field realistic conditions. The three lactobacilli strains have demonstrated significant reduction in growth of the pathogen in vitro and can also stimulate honey bees’ innate immune pathways known to be important to fighting this infectious disease. We are now in the process of testing the BioPatty™ to reduce the prevalence of other disease causing organisms and its ability to mitigate pesticide toxicity in bees foraging near agriculture.
A peer-reviewed paper is expected to publish in Spring of 2019.
DJ: How has BioPattyTM performed in the ‘real world’?
Reid: A pilot study has been completed and more experiments are underway. After analyzing and interpreting microbiota data of honey bees supplemented with the BioPatty, standard pollen patty, or nothing, it appears the BioPatty shifts the microbiota of honey bees to a composition that is associated with lower abundances of potential pathogens, especially P. larvae. Additional field tests are underway in Canada and California.
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