monsanto’s to bee or not to bee solution: RNA interference

It does not take long walking through a field this time of year to realize that something is missing: Bees. The reason? Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Why? Nobody knows, but many scientists believe it to be caused by an invasive species of mites. Regardless, the mites certainly aren’t helping. What we do know, however, is that this is a BIG problem. Bees are absolutely vital to pollinating the plants that make our food.

CCD was first observed in the United States in 2006; since then, commercial beekeepers have reported losses of over 30% of their colonies. In a Petition to Congress, many people around the country cry for help against “Big-Ag Giant” Monsanto, whose insecticide, they believe, is obviously the reason why CCD is occurring:

“If bees die out the whole human population will as well! You should put a ban on all of the chemical products that they use so that they cant be used. Neoictinoids are killing thousands of bees. We need bees to pollinate our food and if bees die out then the human race will also die out. And we love bees especially since they pollinate our food,” the petition reads.

But wait. Reports from the USDA have concluded, year in and year out, that there is no clear reason for such death. Monsanto, in fact, has established a Honeybee Advisory Council and a series of meetings with industry professionals to figure out what has happened.

As reported by MIT Technology Review last week, scientists at Monsanto (yes, the company everyone above is blaming…) are putting their heads (and their money) together to come up with an absolutely genius idea: RNA Interference.

In English, please?

A quick synopsis:
The Varra mite destroys colonies by targeting the growth of young bees. After a hive is infested, all of the bees will die within two to four years without extreme steps to stop it. Pesticides to kill the Varra mite are virtually impossible to develop because the mite is relatively similar to the bee itself. One solution Monsanto researchers (the company is actually made up of human beings…) have started to investigate to getting rid of the mites is RNA interference, or a process where one uses RNA molecules to inhibit gene expression, or gene silencing.  

Because the genomes of both the mite and the bee have been almost thoroughly mapped, this technology would be a very targeted, natural defense against the mites. It is expected that the RNA interference technology could be fed to bees through sugar water. “The idea is that when a nurse bee spits the sugar water into each cell of a honeycomb where a queen bee has laid an egg, the resulting larvae will consume the RNA interference treatment.” The treatment would be harmless to the larvae, but when the mite eats it, the mite would essentially be ingesting its own “self-destruct” signal.

Monsanto is now looking to identify such “self-destruct” triggers.

Conclusion: The bee itself would not be genetically modified, nor would the mite; the technology would be transient: It would not be passed from generation to generation. 

For even more information, check out the article directly: “Monsanto’s Plan to Help the Honeybee: Monsanto and others look to RNA interference to fight widespread bee-killing mites” 


Also, if you’re looking for quality entertainment — I use that word loosely — venture into the comments section  of the article when you’re done reading…

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