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Engineered symbionts activate honey bee immunity and limit pathogens

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Science  31 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6477, pp. 573-576
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax9039

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  • RE: Engineered symbionts to safeguard honeybee health and their pollination services: A response
    • Edward A. D. Mitchell, Professor, Laboratory of Soil Biodiversity, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile Argand 11, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
    • Other Contributors:
      • Alexandre Aebi, Professor, Laboratory of Soil Biodiversity, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile Argand 11, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland – AND – Institut d’Et
      • Francesco Sanchez-Bayo, Professor, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of Sydney, Australia - Current : Depart. of Agriculture, Water and Environment
      • Dave Goulson, Professor, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, UK
      • Noa Simon Delso, Researcher, Beekeeping Research and Information Centre (CARI), Place Croix du Sud 4, 1348 Louvain la Neuve, Belgium
      • Robert Brodschneider, Mag. Dr., University of Graz, Institute of Biology Universitätsplatz 2, A-8010 Graz, Austria
      • Jean-Marc Bonmatin, Directeur de Recherches CNRS, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, 45071 Orléans, France
      • Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, Independent researcher
      • Klaus-Werner Wenzel, Prof Dr med
      • Boris Bar, Professor, Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER), Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside, USA
      • Gérard Arnold, PhD HDR neurobiology and behaviour, Laboratoire Evolution, Génomes, Comportement, Ecologie, CNRS, Gif sur Yvette, France.
      • Michael Eyer, Researcher, Laboratory of Soil Biodiversity, University of Neuchâtel, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
      • Anton Safer, Senior Scientist Epidemiology

    Leonard et al. (1) presented an interesting approach to limit the impact of pathogens on honeybees by stimulating immunity via engineered symbionts. The urgency to safeguard pollinator services is undoubted. Massive declines in bees, insects in general, pose major concerns for ecosystem stability and food production.
    However, we see potential pitfalls in such technology driven approaches.
    Leonard et al. attribute high honeybee colony mortality to the parasitic mite Varroa destructor via synergistic interactions with RNA viruses. However, Varroa is only a significant concern for honeybees. The consensus is that pollinator declines are driven primarily by habitat loss and exposure to pesticides (2, 3). The proposed measures will do nothing to aid other insects delivering the bulk of pollination (e.g. (4)).
    We caution the release of genetically modified organisms into bees and their environments and identify three main risks:
    1. Potential spill over and unknown impact to the health of wild bees. The benefit to bees is thus uncertain.
    2. Unpredictable effects for biodiversity, ecosystems and human health: It is impossible to exclude that bacteria with modified genes may cross the species borders through horizontal gene transfer to other microorganisms in the microbiome of bees, other invertebrates, and vertebrates including humans.
    3. Potential regulatory and economic consequences: What would happen if traces of GMOs are detected in honey or...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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