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Mite-destroying gut bacterium might help save vulnerable honey bees

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A friend sent me this link:

 

“The world’s honey bees are facing an unprecedented crisis. Since the 1940s, the number of honey bee hives in the United States has dropped from 6 million to 2.5 million. A combination of colony-killing mites, viral pathogens, and possibly pesticides is largely to blame. Now, researchers are tapping an unusual ally in the fight to bring the bees back: a bacterium that lives solely in their guts. By genetically modifying the bacterium to trick the mite or a virus to destroy some of its own DNA, scientists have improved bee survival in the lab—and killed many of the mites that were parasitizing the insects.”

 

(continued here)

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/mite-destroying-gut-bacterium-might-help-save-vulnerable-honey-bees

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Yes, this looks promising. Both in the way that it controls mites and limits pathogens. 
 

I imagine that when you modify DNA in a bee it could have negative consequences. But one would hope the scientists have success with the positives of this study and mitigate the risks. 
 

Here is a link to the abstract, which is clear and easy to read. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6477/573

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Last summer, Royal Society Te Aparangi called for a new discussion on Gene Editing and other new genetic techniques.

https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/major-issues-and-projects/gene-editing-in-aotearoa/

This paper on RNA interference  by altering the RNA of the bacteria and feeding it to the bees demonstrates these new genetic techniques.

At the moment in NZ this work cannot be undertaken and we cannot access it if it is developed commercially.

Are the majority of NZ beekeepers ready to embrace these new genetic techniques?

 

My concern is that we will all agree to disagree and we will get no where.

 

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4 hours ago, Don Mac said:

Last summer, Royal Society Te Aparangi called for a new discussion on Gene Editing and other new genetic techniques.

https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/major-issues-and-projects/gene-editing-in-aotearoa/

This paper on RNA interference  by altering the RNA of the bacteria and feeding it to the bees demonstrates these new genetic techniques.

At the moment in NZ this work cannot be undertaken and we cannot access it if it is developed commercially.

Are the majority of NZ beekeepers ready to embrace these new genetic techniques?

 

My concern is that we will all agree to disagree and we will get no where.

 

@Don Mac

Not sure I completely agree with you here. Other than it being a different bacterium that got genetically modified I don't think this is really a "new genetic technique". This is clearly an example of genetic modification and not one of gene editing. They have introduced DNA that does not naturally occur in the gut symbiont to constitutively express RNA that also does not naturally occur in it.

While I like the idea of utilising RNA interference, as it can be made to specifically interfere with a single species (in this case Varroa), I really don't like the idea of introducing genetically modified bacteria into the environment. It certainly raises a few pretty big ethical questions. Once something like this is allowed out of containment there would be no controlling where it ends up.

I am not sure about not being able to undertake this sort of research in NZ - pretty sure if you can meet the containment requirements then it would be fine. 

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Very interesting conversation.  Does anyone know where the Bio Protection Unit at Lincoln uni are at with there fungal control for varroa

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5 minutes ago, Maggie James said:

Very interesting conversation.  Does anyone know where the Bio Protection Unit at Lincoln uni are at with there fungal control for varroa

I thought they gave it up years ago 'cos they couldn't stop the bees  throwing the introduction medium out....

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2 minutes ago, yesbut said:

I thought they gave it up years ago 'cos they couldn't stop the bees  throwing the introduction medium out....

No they haven't

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15 minutes ago, Maggie James said:

No they haven't

Is this the metarhizium fungus or something else ?

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@Otto     I think one needs to read the Royal Society Te Aparangi report on the legal issues that beset Genetic development in NZ before stating research in containment is possible.

The challenge is that working with bees in a containment facility is very difficult. I quote from their paper.'

Furthermore, a High Court decision in 201416stated that the exemption list was an exclusive list, not a list of examples for guidance, and it could not be interpreted to include other techniques that were similar to chemical mutagenesis.   https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Gene-Editing-Legal-and-regulatory-implications-DIGITAL.pdf 

 

@OttoWhat I wish to understand are your ethical arguments against this research and or market development?

That is why I support a return to this debate as we have a lot more techniques available that were not in our labs in 1998.

 

 

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You will have to contact the Bio Protection unit to find that out.  I am just a beekeeper.  All I know is that they are using fungi and their extracts as a biological control for varroa.  Biological controls have many advantages over synthetic options & my understanding is that the results from these trials, bio-active compounds could well be an addition to the arsenal of mixed pest management options.

 

Some of the drawback of bio-pesticide treatments are that it takes several days to kill the mite; also it may not be able to be adapted to the brood nest environment, as the fungi needs a temperature of 25-28 degrees C to develop, whereas brood is about 33-36 degrees C.  By using fungal bio-active extracts to control mites rather than fungus itself, this gets around these limitations.

 

Crikey that was so complicated for a beekeeper to put to paper, I now need to rush off and have a drink of honey brandy.  

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4 hours ago, Don Mac said:

 

@OttoWhat I wish to understand are your ethical arguments against this research and or market development?

That is why I support a return to this debate as we have a lot more techniques available that were not in our labs in 1998.

 

@Don Mac Sorry, was obviously not very clear with my previous post. My disagreement with your post was only with regards to using this particular example to support the need to rewrite the rules as this was not a gene editing approach but quite a substantial genetic modification of a gut endosymbiont.

 

I have no issues at all with using genetic modifications in research. It is an invaluable tool without which we would still know very little about how biological systems work. I utilised it extensively when I did my PhD and as part of subsequent research projects I was involved in but that was all in containment and using laboratory strains of organisms. I know that this is an area in science where new techniques and technologies are changing the way things can be done very quickly. Rules written >20 years ago will not necessarily fit with the tools available today and I am all for the these rules being overhauled. Ideally how well the rules fit with new technologies needs to be looked at quite regularly. 

 

With respect to market development, my opinion is that our understanding of biological systems is not complete enough for us to be releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment (although I do realise that there are already multiple examples where this has happened). 

 

 

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