Bacteria are not solely pathogens: Among these microorganisms, there are some benign varieties – probiotics – that support the body’s digestion and overall health. Students of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada have developed a genetically modified probiotic that may further improve the health of honey bees. Their research has received two golden medals at the finals of the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) in Boston. iGEM is an international research competition for students in the field of synthetic biology. More than 200 teams presented their projects at the event in September 2015
The team of 20 students from UBC presented an innovative probiotic for honey bees: their “Pro-bee-otic“ is intended to enable the bees’ metabolism to break down the insecticide imidacloprid faster. To develop the prototype of this probiotic, the students analyzed the natural bacteria in the gut of honey bees. One bacterium stood out: Gilliamella apicola.
The students genetically modified this specific gut bacterium to make it break down imidacloprid. In order to do so, the young researchers inserted a gene into the genome of the bacterium, which installs a degradation pathway for imidacloprid. The student researchers then fed the altered bacterium to honey bees. “It's a difficult process because there's not much research about the bacteria we're working with. We've been trying different ways to get the genes into the bacteria,” said Darren Christy, a third-year Biochemistry student.
The students felt it was important to get involved with this topic following the restriction of some insecticides within the class of neonicotinoids in the European Union, including imidacloprid. “As it stands right now, pesticides are essential for modern agriculture," said Yu Qing Du. He is a second-year Physical Engineering student and member of the team.
Currently, the students are testing their probiotic prototype in the laboratory. If the team can prove their concept, beekeepers might be able to feed this probiotic to their bees via sugar water in the future. This preventive medicine could help to make plant protection products even safer for honey bees.
Here you can read the article from PHYS ORG or get to know more about the project “Pro-Bee-otics”.
Here you can find all of the winners of the iGEM 2015.