Bacteria genetically modified to protect bees from the deadly tendency that is characterizing them and that is worrying not only the scientific world. Even in the United States, honey bee colonies are decreasing so much that, during last winter, beekeepers had to give up more than 40% of their colonies, the highest rate since surveys began 13 years ago.
Nancy Moran, Professor of Integrative Biology, is working with colleagues to engineer particular strains of bacteria to be introduced into the bowels of honeybees. These bacteria act as “biological factories”: they trigger the immune system of bees to protect themselves from the deformed wing virus, one of the two main causes of their collapse together with varroa mites, parasites of bees. These two conditions very often come together: the more the mites feed on bees, the more the virus spreads, which makes bees increasingly vulnerable to various pathogens in the environment.
This is a method that is not as complex as it might appear: the engineering of bacteria in the laboratory, once the method is completed, is not at all prohibitive, just as it is not prohibitive to inoculate them into the body of bees by causing them to spread into colonies. The implication of such a method is direct, as Moran herself states. It is also the first time that the bee microbiome has been genetically engineered to improve bee health.
During the tests, bees with the engineered bacterium in their bodies showed a 36.5% higher probability of surviving after 10 days than control bees. At the same time, Varroa mites feeding on bees treated with the engineered bacterium were about 70% more likely to die by day 10 than mites feeding on control bees.
BTW, on the topic of bees, please check out this article:
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