In 2007 reports of “colony collapse disorder”—swift, terrible deaths of entire colonies—suddenly mushroomed across Europe and the Americas. News reports called it a “threat to global agriculture” and an “unprecedented catastrophe for the planet.” The headlines were justified: Insect pollination, mostly from honeybees, is critical to one-third of the world’s food supply.
A potentially nontoxic treatment is envisioned by Beeologics, an arm of the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which uses RNAi (the last letter stands for “interference”). In the Beeologics version, bees would be fed sugar water containing RNAi, which disables mite RNA. In theory the doctored sugar water should not affect the bee. But when mites drink the bees’ hemolymph, the mites will also take in RNAi—and it should affect them. It’s as if you could kill vampires by eating pizza with garlic sauce.
Jerry Hayes of Monsanto Honey Bee Health hopes to have something on the market within five to seven years.
A consortium of more than a hundred researchers decoded the honeybee genome in 2006. Geneticist Martin Beye at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, was part of the group. The next step, in his view, would be to identify genes that influence certain behaviors—and, if needed, modify them.
Although scientists had produced transgenic insects since the early 1980s, all attempts to insert genes into Apis mellifera had failed. With Beye and two other collaborators, Christina Vleurinck gradually developed a successful technique. Still, it will take years of work before the method can be used to develop a better bee. And releasing genetically modified bees is bound to be controversial.
The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Quest for a Superbee