Students Create Probiotic To Help Honeybees Fight Deadly Fungus

Phys.org By Andrew Lyle, University of Alberta January 10, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A team of University of Alberta students are hoping to market a probiotic they created to help honeybees ward off a fungal infection that has wiped out entire hives.

APIS, short for "antifungal porphyrin-based intervention system," uses genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to produce molecules called porphyrins that damage the spores of Nosema ceranae, the most widespread fungus infecting honeybees around the world.

Beekeepers can feed the product to their hives to help eliminate the fungus in the bees' digestive systems.

The students created the product as a project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition that took place in Boston last October, where they won first prize and a gold medal in the food and nutrition category.

A month after the competition, the team presented their research at the annual conference of the Alberta Beekeeping Commission.

"It allowed us to expose our work to commercial beekeepers and to bee researchers who might be able to pursue further development," said science student and team member Julia Heaton. "We've had interest in our project from some of these beekeepers, as well as from beekeepers who saw our research in the media.

"We have commercial beekeepers who are willing to conduct the necessary field trials to allow commercialization of our project. We've also looked into patenting our system with the help of TEC Edmonton."

Honeybees in cold climates are even more vulnerable to the fungus that infects their digestive systems—a problem of particular concern in Alberta, which produced more than 40 per cent of Canada's honey in 2016, worth more than $60 million.

The only existing treatment for Nosema ceranae is a fungicide called fumagillin, but it has been discontinued, making the problem even more critical.

"Bees have been a really hot topic lately, but although a lot of people know that bees are in trouble, not a lot of people understand why," said Heaton.

"We also wanted to raise awareness of a problem that deeply affects our province and our communities, but not many people know about," added Anna Kim, a team member studying biology and psychology.

Under the supervision of mentors, more than 300 university teams are tasked with using genetic components to create biological solutions to real-world problems.

"Very often in science, we first find 'solutions' and then we go looking for a problem," said U of A chemistry professor Robert Campbell, who mentored the student team for the competition in which more than 300 university teams are tasked with using genetic components to create biological solutions to real-world problems.

"It is so important to identify a problem first and then find the best solution, no matter where that leads you. This team identified the problem of Nosema infections in honeybees and was inspired to conceive of an original, feasible and practical solution."

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-students-probiotic-honeybees-deadly-fungus.html#jCp

Provided by: University of Alberta 

Nosema Ceranae

IBRA (International Bee Research Association) FB Post   December 12, 2015

Nosema ceranae is a single cell infection in honey bees. It was said to cause 20,000 colony losses in Salamanca, Spain.

Molecular biology techniques have been used to explore how the honey bee cell reacts to N. ceranae infection. A team of researchers from China and the US (including IBRA trustee Jay Evans) compared bees with and without an infection - and looked at what was going on inside the cell. They found 17 micro-RNA changes when a honey bee cell is infected with N. ceranae. Although we don't yet fully understand the picture, it is a start.

The science bit
DNA forms the blueprint or architect's plans for a cell; DNA holds all the information needed to make a fully functional cell.As need arises, those plans are carried in chunks of text (called messenger-RNA) over to the cellular processing centre so the "stuff that needs to be made" or the "something that needs to be done" will happen.

Micro-RNA binds (or sticks) to unused messenger-RNA so it will be broken down and the message it carries cannot be used. Simply put, microRNA is a "control switch." Micro-RNA controls many things including how cells grow and develop (developmental processes) and normal day to day functions (physiological processes).

So what?
Somehow N. ceranae infection changes the profile of micro-RNa control switches. This leads to a change in the gene-messages being used and ultimately changes what is going on in the cell. The researchers found several chemical pathways were affected - with faster trans-membrane transport and cell metabolism.

Why does it matter?
It may be the faster processes makes more resources available for the N.ceranae to reproduce in bee midgut epithelial cells. It may also explain why honey bees with Nosema need more sugar water to fuel a faster rate of metabolism. However there is much still to be learned about how these changes happen and whether this response takes place only for N.ceranae infections... or always happens when there is an infection.

How will this help beekeepers?
Well, it won't help us yet.. but it gives an insight to how an infection works in honey bees and by understanding that we might be able to work out how to control Nosema in the future.

Find out more about Nosemosis here
http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=191

Find the free to view scientific paper here
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4664923/

Image: The photo comes from the article "Does Nosema ceranae cause Colony Collapse Disorder?" by Robert Paxton, published in the Journal of Apicultural Research in 2010:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3896/IBRA.1.49.1.11…

Tiny Parasite May Contribute to Declines in Honey Bee Colonies by Infecting Larvae

UC San Diego News Center   By Kim McDonald May 27, 2015

Biologists at UC San Diego have discovered that a tiny single-celled parasite may have a greater-than expected impact on honey bee colonies, which have been undergoing mysterious declines worldwide for the past decade.

In this week’s issue of the journal PLOS ONE, the scientists report that a microsporidian called Nosema ceranae, which has been known to infect adult Asiatic and European honey bees, can also infect honeybee larvae. They also discovered that honey bee larvae...

Read more... http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/tiny_parasite_may_contribute_to_declines_in_honey_bee_colonies_by_infecting

A Warming World May Spell Bad News for Honey Bees

The following is brought to us by ABJ Extra    November 26, 2014

Researchers have found that the spread of an exotic honey bee parasite, Nosema ceranae, -now found worldwide - is linked not only to its superior competitive ability, but also to climate, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The team of researchers, including Myrsini Natsopoulou from the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, who co-led the research alongside Dr. Dino McMahon from Queen's University Belfast, believes that the parasite could become more prevalent in the UK in the future and their findings demonstrate the importance of both parasite competition and climate change in the spread of this emerging disease.

Myrsini Natsopoulou said: "Our results reveal not only that the exotic parasite is a better competitor than its original close relative, but that its widespread distribution and patterns of prevalence in nature depend on climatic conditions too".

The research compared pathogen growth in honey bees that were infected with both the exotic parasite, Nosema ceranae and its original native relative, Nosema apis.

Experiments showed that, while both parasites inhibit each other's growth, the exotic Nosema ceranae has a much greater negative impact on the native Nosema apis than vice versa. By integrating the effects of competition and climate into a simple mathematical model, the researchers were better able to predict the relative occurrence of both parasite species in nature:Nosema ceranae is common in Southern Europe but rare in Northern Europe.

Coauthor of the study, Prof. Robert Paxton of Queen's University Belfast, added: "This emerging parasite is more susceptible to cold than its original close relative, possibly reflecting its presumed origin in east Asia. In the face of rising global temperatures, our findings suggest that it will increase in prevalence and potentially lead to increased honey bee colony losses in Britain."

Read at... http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=5fd2b1aa990e63193af2a573d&id=bed629ab1c&e=df8d36cef5

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Honeybee Homing Hampered by Parasite

Phys.org    September 3, 2014

In an experiment at Rothamsted Research institute in Hertfordshire, 35 per cent of bees infected with Nosema ceranae never made it home. Among healthy foragers, the figure was less than ten per cent.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

'This is obviously bad news for bees infected with the parasite,' says Dr Stephan Wolf, of Rothamsted Research, who led the study. 'But in some ways it's surprising that so many infected bees did so well.'

'We're talking about heavily infested animals, but we couldn't find any difference in their flight patterns - they didn't seem to get lost or confused. It seems some of them were just too exhausted to make it back to the nest.'

'This raises important questions about why some infected bees are able to function in exactly the same way as healthy bees, while others are unable to cope.'

Managed honeybees pollinate important commercial crops throughout the world, but in recent years they have been in decline.

In a study published in January this year, scientists said many European countries are now facing honeybee shortfalls. The problem is particularly acute in Britain, where there are only enough honeybees to pollinate a quarter of crops.

Alongside the unintended consequences of pesticides targeted at other species, diseases and parasites have shouldered most of the blame.

Nosema parasite spores invade cells in the gut, drawing energy for themselves while damaging the bees' ability to absorb food.

There are two species of the parasite - Nosema apis, native to Europe, and Nosema ceranae, an Asian species which in recent years has spread rapidly throughout the world, and is now widespread throughout Europe and the UK.

Nosema ceranae can be terminal for honeybee colonies, but its symptoms are typically subtle in individual bees, giving away very few signs of infection before death.

Previous research suggested that it affects bees' ability to find their way back to the colony. To investigate what happened to them, the team attached tiny radar transponders to the backs of a mixture of clean and infected bees.

Each transponder, just 16mm long and weighing less than the average pollen load, sent a distinct signal back to the radar, allowing scientists to track the position of each bee in real time.

The bees were released onto a field at Rothamsted some distance from the colony, challenging them both to find their bearings and to make it all the way back to the hive.

Although there was very little difference between the flight characteristics of clean and infected bees, some infected  seemed to become exhausted, taking longer stops before settling on the ground and disappearing from the radar.

The only available treatment for Nosema infections, a fungicide called fumagillin, is banned in the European Union over environmental safety concerns. And there is a debate among researchers about its effectiveness against the parasites.

Scientists continue to work on developing safe and efficient alternatives.

More information: Stephan Wolf, Dino P. McMahon, Ka S. Lim, Christopher D. Pull, Suzanne J. Clark, Robert J. Paxton, Juliet L. Osborne, 'So Near and Yet So Far: Harmonic Radar Reveals Reduced Homing Ability of Nosema Infected Honeybees', 2014, PLOS ONEDOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103989

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-honeybee-homing-hampered-parasite.html#jCp

This story is republished courtesy of Planet Earth online, a free, companion website to the award-winning magazine Planet Earth published and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).