Genetic engineering responsible for bee die off

alan haighJanuary 22, 2014

"The mysterious mass die-offs of honeybees that have wiped out roughly a third of commercial colonies each year since 2006 may be linked to a rapidly mutating virus that jumped from tobacco plants to soy plants to bees, according to a new study."

Humans are way behind nature in this genetic engineering business, and frankly, many of mother nature's experiments are downright dangerous.

The complete article is in today's science section of the NY
Times- I won't bother posting a link because Gardenweb will scramble it for some reason.

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In nature it is not "genetic engineering." It is natural genetic mutation, which has been going on since the beginning of life. Genetic Engineering is the attempt by humans to manipulate genes to create more favorable traits. Wh knows whether humans have produced more harm than good in their efforts, but regarding nature, I am sure that the balance sheet is positive.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 7:10AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Your title is a troll......there is no "Genetic engineering" involved in this or mentioned in the article. This is a completely NATURAL process.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 8:22AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Heres the article. The big question is whether bees have been getting this virus all along or if its a recent change. The article doesn't touch on that topic so its not clear how much of a factor it is in the recent increase in die-offs.


Here is a link that might be useful: article

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 8:38AM
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RNA viruses mutate at the drop of a hat.
These are mutations essentially 'mistakes' that occur in the process of translation/transcription. Most of those errors have no significant effect - some may render the mutated virus non-viable or unable to infect or replicate, but some may allow the virus to 'jump' species or increase virulence.
It's totally natural - the anti-GMO folks should embrace that!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 9:54AM
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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)


I think that you should EDIT the name of this thread. I read the article and there is no mention, at all, of any Genetic Engineering. And in your heading you make an unequivocal statement that is not supported by any "science" .

Implying, in your post, that mother nature is also engaged in genetic engineering does not correct the problem with the title of the post.

We all know that the term is synonymous with HUMAN directed engineering.

Google already has this as the 8th listing if you search --- "genetic engineering virus bee" ---.

I think the heading for this post is unfortunate and I am disappointed.

Maybe a better heading would be ..." Mother Nature - Foremost genetic engineer".

I don't want to be excoriated for going off topic but...


This post was edited by mes111 on Wed, Jan 22, 14 at 13:48

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 12:03PM
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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

> but regarding nature, I am sure that the balance sheet is >positive.

I'm not sure how you would score it as positive, what's your metric? The vast majority of species in history are extinct.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 12:04PM
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That would be very unusual - ? unheard of - for a virus to be able to infect both plant and insect. I dont see the real evidence in this article.

For now this is a speculation and real scientific evidence is needed.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 12:32PM
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The abstract of the original scientific article/study and it's authors linked below

The evidence is pretty conclusive that the virus has jumped species and replicates in honeybees. It also states that the jumped virus has been isolated in varroa mites who feed on the bees but only in their gut tract. So they likely are only vectors and not hosts.

The authors do make it sound as if this were a first confirmation of plant bas virus jumping into the animal kingdom and staying there.

The only element of the announcement that gives me pause, and perhaps the reason GM has been broached, is that several of the top authors now work for a company called beeologics.
Beeologics is attempting to develop dsRNAs that could be used as anti viral medications for honeybee colonies. beeologics was purchased by Monsanto a few years ago. And in the beekeeping community their are concerns about monsantos intentions, and the stability/drift of using genetic material that can be consumed as food and make it into long term replication inside the honeybee colony

But of course these are the types of experienced researchers most likely to make such a discovery, so it is unfair judge them on that alone.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ringspot honey bee abstract

This post was edited by windfall_rob on Wed, Jan 22, 14 at 13:45

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 1:08PM
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"Your title is a troll......there is no "Genetic engineering" involved in this or mentioned in the article. This is a completely NATURAL process."

Natural is nothing more than a buzzword. Genetic selection is no different from forced breeding which is no different than splicing.

Some of you should really take a biology class, specifically one about how cells divide, and all the gene splicing that happens in that process.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 6:22PM
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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)

"Some of you should really take a biology class..."

I move to strike your comment as non-responsive.

Does the title accurately describe the article mentioned? Does it not suggest that the evils of genetic engineering is killing our bees?
Your flaming deflection is meaningless and, additionally, fails to make any point whatsoever and is nasty in tone.

I know how much you disapprove of off-topic threads. Why are you needlessly contributing to its continuation?


This post was edited by mes111 on Wed, Jan 22, 14 at 20:22

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 7:49PM
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Grafting a pear upon a quince--why that genetic mix could never happen in nature! I'm outraged! And don't even get me started about grafting it upon a pyracantha!

Actually, as little as 130 years ago there was considerable resistance to any grafting, it being "unnatural" and supposedly debilitating.

Opinions and information and technology move on.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 8:29PM
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Grafting a pear upon a quince--why that genetic mix could never happen in nature! I'm outraged! And don't even get me started about grafting it upon a pyracantha!

Actually, as little as 130 years ago there was considerable resistance to any grafting, it being "unnatural" and supposedly debilitating.

Opinions and information and technology move on.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 8:30PM
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alan haigh

Hey folks, I was only kidding. What is up with all that anger?
That makes me quite curious. My main point was just to bring attention to this discovery, which is important to all who grow fruit and is most certainly on topic.

Many of my clients keep bees with the intent of helping the pollination of their crops. They've been having trouble keeping hives alive and are always questioning me about the pesticides used on the trees and how it might be affecting their bees.

I am making a secondary point, by way of intended humor- that the mutations that occur in nature on a daily basis probably have just as much potential for disaster as any release of a GMO and these mutations are much more unpredictable and beyond any control compared to the intentional splicing of genes.

The idea mentioned by Charlie Boring that this is a natural process that has been going on since the origin of life doesn't make sense to me. Is that supposed to mean that viral mutations are not a source of danger, like AIDS and bird flu.

All this worry of a misleading lead, as if this were a widely read journal or newspaper. It just isn't very important. Where exactly is the harm?


    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 9:02PM
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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)

A misleading lead is misleaging regardless of the importance of the publication.

What is the harm? I don't know....if done intentionally, maybe integrity.

Maybe you are right... I remember someone else saying

"What difference, at this point, does it make?" - on a much more important topic.


This post was edited by mes111 on Thu, Jan 23, 14 at 13:08

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 8:07AM
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alan haigh

I think it more likely that a couple of people are already irritated with me and looking for something to complain about.

Integrity is a word you can use but it has no meaning- dishonesty is about misleading people with an ulterior motive that will in some way involve victimization. I was simply attempting to be amusing- so sorry if it fell flat. I think a couple of other people are actually being dishonest here- at least to themselves.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 4:52PM
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windfall_rob - thanks for the link to the abstract. That is really unique.

harvestman - thanks for bringing this to our attention

It would be good to know if this is really widespread or more isolated, and if truely part of the bee die off.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 6:43PM
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I don't see the big deal about HM's title. It was interesting enough to get me to click on the link and then the first sentence of the first post tells you he was being tongue in cheek. Misleading would have been if he didn't let on that it is mother nature or if he didn't include a reference (both of which he did) so no harm no foul.

I totally agree with Alex that the balance sheet for nature isn't necessarily positive. That is all a matter of perspective.

I read the article and it sounds pretty interesting. The concept of a virus infecting both plants and insects is not new although it isn't that common. Many plant viruses are spread through an insect vector although typically the virus does not cause a disease in the insects. In this article they illustrate that the virus is carried in the insect population and does cause pathology in those insects. Outside of viruses, many many infectious organisms infect vastly different organisms. Some infectious fungi infect both humans and soil dwelling amoeba. Some human parasites also infect snails, or fish, or insects. The bacterium that causes plague also infects microscopic worms.

Windfall_rob, where did you see the Beeologics thing? I didn't see them as an affiliation in the paper, so if they are working at Beeo/Monsanto now they really should have divulged it in the paper. -- There is a case for integrity for you.

Off the main topic but if one believes in intelligent design, wouldn't it be appropriate to refer to mother nature being an engineer? Either way, I don't have a problem calling natural selection "engineering"--it is also not an uncommon rhetorical word usage.

This post was edited by sf_rhino on Fri, Jan 24, 14 at 19:21

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 6:00PM
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alan haigh

Thanks eboone and sf rhino, but don't worry, I wasn't much offended by the response, and in the end, not much puzzled either.

Jokes generally start with a lead that is intentionally misleading and one hopes that it is the surprise that makes it amusing.

I enjoyed what you had to add to the topic, sf, as I appreciate your knowledge of science. The genetic engineering debate is interesting to me as it seems to show that the left wing can sustain a faith based reality as adeptly as the right.

Not that I want to start a debate on GMO's here that goes beyond what ties into fruit growing.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 7:00PM
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sf rhino,

I goofed there and allowed another discussion of this material to get mixed in my mind without checking the details before I passed them on.

the folks associated with beeologis were not the authors but were among reviewers cited in the acknowledgements in the full text....which makes sense given their particular expertise in RNA virus effecting bees.

I am glad you caught that, as it was an unfair slight against the actual authors.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 2:07PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Well their some good news as most of these virulent strains of this virus will disappear with the death of the bees. Some might survive and be more adapted to keeping it's host alive. Remember the virus really doesn't want to kill it's meal ticket. It's a consequence of infection. Many strains of HIV these days do not kill the host, or not anytime soon. The most deadly strains of HIV are long gone. Drug therapy helps kill and adapt strains that are less virulent. So possible anti-viral treatment for bees may be an option to look at. With time, this sudden die off should end all by itself, as long as we can keep enough bees alive in the meantime. The bees are new hosts and the virus needs to learn to adapt as does the bee to this relationship.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 8:54PM
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alan haigh

Interesting points, Drew. The caveat with killer viruses being, if we can keep the host species alive long enough to adapt.

I was unaware that the HIV virus was becoming less deadly. I wonder if less deadly strains could innoculate a person from more deadly ones. I guess this is being looked into.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 8:03AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

If you think about it it makes a lot of sense what happens. If the virus host is killed quickly the virus has less time to replicate and spread. The longer the host is alive, the more chance of successful reproduction. Most other primates have been exposed to HIV a lot longer than us, and it's like Herpes when they get it. It doesn't kill them. First discovered in humans around 1980. Now that we know how to identify, it has been found as the cause of death in humans all the way back to 1965.
Back to the bee virus. I doubt it will evolve anytime soon into a virus that doesn't kill bees, but should evolve into one that kills a smaller percentage. the influenza virus kills about 50 thousand people in the USA every year, but many people survive the infections. more survive than die. The bird and pig strains are more deadly as they are new to humans, and why they are in the news. Much like TRSV is new to bees. Eventually the avian and swine influenza will just be like all the other strains. Interesting to note is most old strains of influenza consist of about 90% human genes. The leave a little DNA take a little DNA strategy of defense.

As to your question yes you would be more immune, once exposed you have anti-bodies.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 10:25AM
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Windfall, I was wondering if I had missed something! It is interesting to learn about Beeologics. Monsanto really has a hand in all sorts of stuff.

HM, I enjoy learning about all these new topics. One thing I find very rewarding about these forums is getting introduced to technology/problems/techniques/perspectives out there in the "real world" (gardens, orchards, farms, etc.) I wouldn't normally come across as an apartment-dwelling urbanite.

Drew, while in general you are right about viruses tending to adapt to the host over time that can often take hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years. The other side to that coin is that the hosts also adapt to the viruses by the virtue of the survivors (and their offspring) can be selected out of the population by having some sort of natural resistance. That can happen much faster (a few generations) but it is often devastating to the pre-resistant population.

The rest of this is off topic HIV stuff (sorry to the F&O purists):
In the case of HIV we aren't seeing a decrease in virulence but we are understanding more about the dynamics of different strains of the virus in different populations. What has happened is that we've identified different segments of the human population that are either less susceptible to initial infection by the virus or that are able to control the virus when infected (elite controllers). Unfortunately the virus in those people is not less virulent to the general population. Also on top of all of that, our current drugs (and combinations) are much better than they were even a few years ago. As LuckyP said earlier in the thread, viral replication has massive amount of mutation. Some are more virulent, some less, many are not viable. While we do generate an immune response, the fact that the virus changes so rapidly has made immunity (and thus vaccines) very very tricky. There is and has been a lot of work going into developing an effective vaccine but so far nothing has really turned out to be a winner, although there are some promising candidates on the horizon.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 6:42PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a


I tend to disagree with you as in one line you say it takes hundreds of thousands of years, and in another say it happens so quickly that vaccines are tricky. Wow, that's convenient for your point in each case.
Bacteria and viruses can replicate extremely fast some as many as a million generations in a few days. So evolution is at a much faster rate. People died in 6 months in the 80's of HIV. All those strains are gone. It's not just the drugs that caused increased survival rates.
Go to any medical lab that handles HIV diagnosis and they will show you their collection of extinct strains. I know I worked in them.
One can argue it's the drugs, no doubt the HAART regimen is a major medical breakthrough. Hard to prove my case from studies, but can be shown to have an influence as host and vector evolve as has happened with so many other infections. Common sense really.
Back to the bees, with possible drug therapy to speed the process along we can save them. it's very rare for a pathogen to cause extinction.
Attached is a paper from official journal of the international AIDs society which supports my position.

Here is a link that might be useful: HIV becoming less virulent

This post was edited by Drew51 on Mon, Jan 27, 14 at 19:34

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 7:23PM
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Thanks Harvestman, it was very interesting. I am always glad to see anyone trying to help bees.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 9:36PM
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Drew, I emailed you directly about the HIV-related stuff in the interest of keeping the forum from going too off-topic (although I guess that happens all the time).

In terms of the virology and not specific to HIV (thus relating to plant viruses) I did want to address a couple things. First, you are right that replication rates are fast. Viral generation times are on the order of hours to days (bacteria can be faster--20 min or so) but the number of viruses generated in each generation is millions (so very high rate). In fact viral load can be in hundreds of millions to tens of billions per infection. This effectively means that for some highly mutating RNA viruses (like HIV), every single nucleotide is mutated thousands if not millions of times over in each infected individual. So as you said the ability to evolve isn't an issue. This is also one of the reasons effective vaccines are difficult to develop.

The reason why the process of a virus adapting to a non-pathogenic form takes such a long time is that the less virulent form must out-compete and displace the more virulent form. For most pathogens, there is an equilibrium between the ability to transmit between hosts and the level of disease caused. Too bad of a disease usually causes reduced transmission (like acute death or sterility doesn't allow the pathogen to propagate); however often the ability to transmit requires some of the pathology (for example coughing/sneezing/runny nose helps spread a disease).

To displace a virulent pathogen, the less pathogenic form needs to render the host less susceptible to the more pathogenic form. For many viruses one subtype does not prevent subsequent infection with another subtype. The common cold is a great example of this. The virus is constantly changing and you can get infected hundreds of times over the course of your life. Another big issue is zoonotic infections where the virus infects multiple species. What is less virulent (or more adapted) in one host species can hop over to another and cause horrible disease (I'm thinking bird flu here but the bee/plant virus may be another good example).

I really don't try to make convenient arguments for thing. If things I say are conflicting there is usually a reason but I appreciate having them pointed out as I don't want to come across as being biased.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 2:43PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a


You are a lot more informed than me. I know the basics, I have been out of research for almost 20 years. I often regret leaving the field, but I had a better opportunities outside the field. I needed to keep going to school to stay in the field, and life got in the way of that.

It's strange though how some viral diseases refuse to be pinned down with a vaccine whereas the very first vaccine was for a virus that is still controlled by the vaccine. I'm not sure I understand why polio is no longer a problem whereas HIV is?
We need the next Jonas Salk to step up!

You know polio was even more scary than aids before the vaccine. In 1952, 58 thousand cases were reported.
Salk took on HIV, but like everybody else failed to develop a vaccine. Salk passed in 1995. You know he never sought a patent. Thanks brother! RIP!
Pakistan has lot's of polio still as it is believed the vaccine is really an attempt to sterilize the population. Not surprising really. We have many of the same types here.
The sky is falling crowd, I'll leave it at that.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 3:19PM
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Yeah you said it, a lot of the problems with disease control is related to the host population. Fear of vaccines/medicine or the government (whether justified or not) gets in the way. Social stigmas of having a disease are an issue as well. Another big problem, especially w/something like polio or even cholera is that while we can prevent or stop it all it takes is a drought/flood/war/earthquake/etc where a large population is displaced or loses basic services and the epidemic will reignite. For crop diseases, all it takes is one person smuggling in the wrong fruit with eggs or spores or whatever to cause a huge problem. And all of that is just talking about diseases we are already aware of. There is plenty out there we don't know about and don't test for... scary thought.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 3:51PM
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