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 

Probiotics Could Improve Survival Rates in Honey Bees Exposed to Pesticides, Study Finds

Science Daily     Source: Lawson Health Research Institute    June 19, 2017

In a new study from Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) and Western University, researchers have shown that probiotics can potentially protect honey bees from the toxic effects of pesticides.

Honey bees are critical to agriculture as they pollinate approximately 35 per cent of the global food crop, contributing an estimated $4.39 billion per year to the Canadian economy. Pesticides are currently used to maximize crop yields, but the most common pesticides, neonicotinoid insecticides, are a major factor in colony collapse disorder which is killing honey bee populations.

"The demise of honey bees would be disastrous for humankind. A current dilemma in agriculture is how to prevent bee decline while mitigating crop losses," says Dr. Gregor Reid, Director for the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotic Research at Lawson, and Professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "We wanted to see whether probiotics could counter the toxic effects of pesticides and improve honey bee survival."

The study was performed by trainees Brendan Daisley and Mark Trinder in Dr. Reid's lab at St. Joseph's Hospital in London, Ontario. The researchers utilized fruit flies as a well-known model for studying pesticide toxicity in honey bees. Both insects are affected similarly by neonicotinoids, have very similar immune systems, and share many common microbes present in their microbiota -- the collection of microorganisms found in each insect.

The researchers found that fruit flies exposed to one of the world's most commonly used pesticides, imidacloprid (IMI), experienced changes to their microbiota and were more susceptible to infections. The flies were exposed to a comparable amount of pesticide as honey bees in the field.

By administering a specific strain of probiotic lactobacilli, survival among fruit flies exposed to the pesticide improved significantly. The mechanism involved stimulating the immune system through a pathway that insects use to adapt to infection, heat and other stresses.

"Our study showed that probiotic lactobacilli can improve immunity and potentially help honey bees to live longer after exposure to pesticides," says Daisley, an MSc candidate. He notes that probiotic lactobacilli could be easily administered through pollen patties, which are used by beekeepers to provide nutritional support and anti-pesticide effects to honey bees.

Over the winter months, honey bee mortality has been steadily increasing with ranges of 38 to 58 per cent in recent years, two to three times higher than the sustainable level. In Ontario alone, 340 bee keepers reported an abnormally high number of bee deaths, with over 70 per cent of dead bees testing positive for neonicotinoid residues (Government of Ontario).

"While cessation of pesticide use would be ideal, farmers currently have little alternative to obtain the yields that keep their businesses viable," says Dr. Reid. "Until we can cease using pesticides, we need to find ways to protect humans and wildlife against their side effects. Probiotics may prove as an effective protective intervention against colony collapse disorder."

The researchers hope to further study the mechanisms involved in this process and perform field tests on honey bee populations in Ontario.

Story Source: Materials provided by Lawson Health Research Institute. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Brendan A. Daisley, Mark Trinder, Tim W. McDowell, Hylke Welle, Josh S. Dube, Sohrab N. Ali, Hon S. Leong, Mark W. Sumarah, Gregor Reid. Neonicotinoid-induced pathogen susceptibility is mitigated by Lactobacillus plantarum immune stimulation in a Drosophila melanogaster model. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-02806-w

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170619101827.htm