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article imageGenetically modified bacteria used to protect pollinators

By Tim Sandle     Apr 1, 2020 in Science
Biologists have proposed a new strategy designed to protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder. This is based on deploying genetically engineered strains of bacteria, with the aim of altering the microbiome of the bee.
Honeybees, essential pollinators, are at risk globally, due to a number of threats. These threats include human-led habitat destruction, global warming, and mite infestation of hives. Honeybees pollinate a substantial number of flowering food crops including fruits, vegetables and animal-feed crops. Estimates suggest honeybees pollinate approximately one-third of crops in the developed economies.
READ MORE: Probiotics can protect pollinators from colony collapse disorder
Colony collapse disorder occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear. This leaves behind a queen but few other bees to care for the remaining immature bees, resulting in collapse of the colony. Other causative factors include poor nutrition, pesticide exposure, and a lack of genetic diversity.
To help to address the problem of colony collapse, scientists from used genetically engineered bacteria and added these into the guts of honeybees. The aim was for the bacteria to function as biological factories, conferring resistance to Varroa mites and deformed wing virus (two key reasons for the loss of the bees).
While the study was only conducted on a small scale, the aim was lay down the foundations of the study to be scaled up, involving the wide inoculation of honeybees.
For both of the diseases to be targeted, the researcher selected one beneficial bacterium for both diseases, the team engineered one strain of bacteria to target the virus and another for the mites. Inculcation was performed using a spray containing the candidate bacteria and a sugar-water solution.
The data showed that the bacterium used to target the viral disease resulted in infected bees being 36.5 percent more likely to survive to day 10. Furthermore, with the Varroa mites, inoculation with the appropriate bacterium also boosted survival rates. It is believed that the beneficial bacteria increased the effectivity of the bees’ immune systems.
Further studies will be required to upscale the research and to move it from laboratory conditions and out into the real-world.
The research has been published in the journal Science. The research paper is headed “Engineered symbionts activate honey bee immunity and limit pathogens.”
More about Bees, Pollinators, Microbes, microbiome
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