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a leap between kingdoms is not an everyday event
January 31, 2014 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Suspicious Virus Makes Rare Cross-Kingdom Leap From Plants to Honeybees
When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900′s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide.
posted by andoatnp (37 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
If this really is at the heart of colony collapse, it would explain why it's been so hard to point to an actual cause. Silly biologists, not checking for plant viruses in bees.
posted by Punkey at 8:34 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the voice of Sherlock Holmes

But still... WTF?!?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:38 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I've been cooped up at home for a couple of days with a terrible case of potato blight and it's always nice to have more reading material!
posted by threeants at 8:51 PM on January 31 [53 favorites]


But how long until the honeybees start making nicotine-honey?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:57 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


Such things are rare but not unprecedented. Last year, I'm fairly certain that one of the Eastern European nations entered a colony of sentient linden viruses into Eurovision.
posted by delfin at 9:04 PM on January 31 [12 favorites]


Well that puts an end to the "theory" of evolution!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:05 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


But how long until the honeybees start making nicotine-honey?

Anybody got any cannabis sativa viruses handy?
posted by brennen at 9:06 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


It certainly defies credulity, since they haven't proven it. Fulfill Koch's postulate and prove actual replication in the new host. Take hemolymph from an "infected" bee and inject it into uninfected bee, then check if the amount of viral genome increases over time.
posted by benzenedream at 9:12 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


What part defies credulity? They've isolated the virus in the bees (it particularly enjoys neuro tissue), mites, and the tobacco. So it would appear you're suggesting that they don't really know it's all the same virus (this is easy) or that it was never really originally a tobacco ring virus to begin with...or?
posted by lordaych at 9:54 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Just Desserts:

Originally naughty virus finds its feet and "figures out" through selection which side its bread is buttered on...keeping bees alive first and foremost becomes part of its adaptive strategy. Fuck the tobacco though, it's just a playground and a food court.

Virus manipulates symbiotic bacteria that co-exist within the bee (there are some strains that, as we see with the Sloth Moths, only are found in specific host organisms like bees). One strain begins manufacturing chloroplasts in large numbers after genetic material from tobacco that made its way into the virus possibly with the help of other phages, transpovirons, etc is integrated into a bacterial genome. The chlorplast code is somewhat somewhat defective in that they replicate too quickly, causing the bacteria to divide and explode in number. The tobacco virus mutates further into a phage that targets these bacteria, causing them to lyse but only after sufficient quantities of glucose are created.

Bees are constantly covered in delicious sugar (possibly fructose with the help of stuff 'n stuff, glucose is teh borang), lick each other instead of making honey. Grubs lick bees. Bees learn to live everywhere. They make honey in little quantities if needed, just to enjoy the good stuff from time to time. Fuck the man and his demand for mah honey.

A sci-fi original fart-blender of things I've read thanks to Blasdelb et al
posted by lordaych at 10:03 PM on January 31 [8 favorites]


Not sure I went with the "licking sugar" thing, more like they'd just make it in their guts, pupae included, and we all go :( sadface :(
posted by lordaych at 10:06 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah the bees need to be teeming with surface bacteria to get enough sun to produce sugar. Carry on
posted by lordaych at 10:07 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


The science is good. Solid worksmanship science that we need governments to keep and increase support for.

(The [partial] funding source cited was a National Institute of Food and Agriculture 'Coordinated Agricultural Project' grant.)

The amazing thing to me was that a nominally plant-specific virus' coat protein happened to be a compatible shape with a bee cell surface molecule in order to inject the RNA into the host cell.

Well, on top of that of an insect cell's transcriptional machinery being compatible with plant virus promoter sequences, and that protein folding and modification was similar enough to a plants' to make viable viral proteins.

While this might sound like an "infinity monkeys...," nucleic acid sequences that are good at replicating themselves, keep replicating themselves. Certain sequences happen to be heads and shoulders above other sequences. Things like "transposable elements" (transposons), sequences that can excise itself from a host genome and reintegrate somewhere else, sometimes taking bits of its neighbours with it. Homologous recombination happens a lot, too, around certain sequences so being a hotspot sequence or having been close to a hotspot at some point in time keeps persisting because it's good at persisting. Being good at persisting, they become everywhere and so more candidate neighbours can get carried around. If said tryout neighbour makes it better at making more copies of itself, it makes more copies of itself. If not, not. That's basic evolution right there.

That and the number of non-identical viruses/self-replicating-sequences-of-nucleic-acids to have ever existed in the history of nucleic acids on Earth is close enough in league as infinite (as in "only a few orders of magnitude less than"). Speaking as a mortal.

Does turning into an insect virus from being a plant virus qualify as a solid example of macroevolution? (Well, no, it's not macro, but it's a change of species at least.)
posted by porpoise at 11:07 PM on January 31 [8 favorites]


It is a cool paper but benzenedream is absolutely right that they have not yet proven that TMV causes disease in honey bees, at least by the typical standards. They only show that TMV appears to be replicating in various bee tissues and that it is one factor that is associated with an increased in colony collapse, along with a bunch of other more "orthodox" bee pathogens. But TMV could be increasing this probability in a less direct way, because of course TMV also damages plants; the authors don't really disentangle this. (In fairness to them it would be hard to do so.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:34 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


I've been cooped up at home for a couple of days with a terrible case of potato blight and it's always nice to have more reading material!

aka "Mr Potato Head" (urban dictionary) -- swollen eyes, peeling skin... we've all been there, my friend. Just spread sour cream liberally on affected areas; you'll be fine. And stay away from those dirty tubers!
posted by NiceKitty at 11:44 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


b1tr0t: "But how long until the honeybees start making nicotine-honey?"

Tomacco anyone?
posted by symbioid at 11:52 PM on January 31


Tobacco has a lot to answer for; the first virus to be discovered was the tobacco mosaic virus, scourge of my tenth grade science project tomato crop. It can infect 350 different plants, just a touch of an infected leaf or simply having a cigarette in the garden can introduce the virus. There have been no giant leaps yet but when the tobacco mosaic virus hears about the bees, I expect the worst.
posted by Anitanola at 12:00 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Wait... Tobacco RINGspot. Y'all know that movie The Ring? It starts with a videotape thing, but like in the third book or whatever, it gets weird and ends up bing the "Ring Virus" and is a computer simulation thing.

Maybe CCD (is it a coincidence that CCD is ALSO a technological term? HMM??) is a clue to the existence of the RING virus.

Wasn't there an alternate-reality game I Love Bees? And THAT was a VIRAL marketing campaign. And what did it promote? HALO. HALO a RING around a planet.

Oh shit you guys... I'm losing it LOL...

(Christ, I have not had any drugs tonight. I don't *think* I am starting the process of schizophrenizing, but... the above linkages of words (Wordsalad?) is starting to make me wonder.)
posted by symbioid at 12:01 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


symbioid, don't even, I just looked on Twitter and there was a more or less similar chain of reasoning leading to "GMO tobacco is killing honeybees." Word salad is right.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:30 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


schizophrenizing? Can we really gerundize like this?
posted by marienbad at 1:05 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


benzenedream: "It certainly defies credulity, since they haven't proven it. Fulfill Koch's postulate and prove actual replication in the new host. Take hemolymph from an "infected" bee and inject it into uninfected bee, then check if the amount of viral genome increases over time."
I think I'm with benzene dream on this but with a caveat. Koch's postulates are the definition for infectious disease,
1. The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease, but should not be found in healthy organisms.
2. The microorganism must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.
3. The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.
4. The microorganism must be reisolated from the inoculated, diseased experimental host and identified as being identical to the original specific causative agent.
The authors of the original paper have only really managed to accomplish step one and half of step two. They also show that the ringspot virus localized in neurological tissue and not the gut like you would expect for incidental contamination, but this just indicates that something interesting is going on, and that is not necessarily an infectious disease of the bee itself. A more reasonable hypothesis might be that the ringspot virus is actively using the honeybees as a vector, being pollen borne, while not being able to actively infect honeybee cells. It could perhaps encode for some structural feature on its capsid that transports the virus away from the gut in the honeybee for immune system evasion or whatever while it uses the bee to transport itself between plants. This would still be an amazingly fucking cool finding, but not one nearly so earth shattering to pretty much all of virology and the history of life.

If this finding is real, and was properly managed, this should have been three amazing Nature papers. mBio is a very worthy journal that is only going to get more prestigious, but why is this finding published in a paper makes such a poor case?

Its also not just all the work that they tried but couldn't do, like propagate the virus, that makes me cautious but also the work that they could have done but either didn't or didn't show. They've got the genome sequence for the damn thing, does the virus have a honeybee like codon bias or a soybean like codon bias? Why didn't they find out if the virus stays in the population if they move the bee hives? Why didn't they see if they could infect virus free hives with infected hives? Even then, with something of this magnitude, why not collaborate with other bee virus people to just scale up trying to individual infect bees, or do it in clever ways. I can't imagine how much of a pain radioactive bees would be for a radiation safety review, but couldn't they, for example, just radiolabel the fuck out of some bees with radioactive nucleotides in a plexiglass cage, expose them to the highest virus titers they can generate, and see if any radiolabeled viruses come out?

If this is real, it would fundamentally redraw the tree of life and be one of the most profound discoveries in physiology, taxonomy, virology and molecular biology of the last twenty years. If I were them, and really had confidence in this, I'd be radiolabelling some fucking bees.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:16 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


porpoise: "The amazing thing to me was that a nominally plant-specific virus' coat protein happened to be a compatible shape with a bee cell surface molecule in order to inject the RNA into the host cell.

Well, on top of that of an insect cell's transcriptional machinery being compatible with plant virus promoter sequences, and that protein folding and modification was similar enough to a plants' to make viable viral proteins.

While this might sound like an "infinity monkeys..."
"
Its more than this, TRSV is a positive stranded RNA virus, which means that the RNA genome needs to be used directly as if it were mRNA by the host's ribosome in order to translate an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase for replication. This means that the virus must recruit the totally different ribosome with different recruitment factors, the codons must use tRNAs present in the totally different bee cell, the RNA folding must not be too different in the totally different conditions of the bee cell, the protein must fold without any of the chaperonins it evolved with and in the presence of new ones, and then all of the virus' other genes have to do this just right too. The genome has to survive in the presence of totally different cell defenses against foreign RNA, this is a eukaryote so all the cell localizing tags that TRSV relied on to force plant cells to move its stuff where it needs it are totally scrambled, the machinery related to supercoiling is different, the RNA degradasome is different, the basic underlying metabolism is different, and hell, this all assumes a way to get the nucleic acids into the cell to begin with.

Sure a sufficient number of monkeys at a sufficient number of typewriters would eventually write shakespeare, but this is the kind of jump is a kind of complexity that is entirely plausible for all of life on earth running simultaneously for the 23–56 million years bees have been around to be incapable of brute force solving. There is a reason why when we noticed that if you squint a bunch the capsids of herpesviruses and bacteriophages look astonishingly similar in structure the two hypotheses were that this must show either common ancestry dating back to the origin of cellular life or convergent evolution - not what these guys are suggesting.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:48 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


they discovered a common plant virus — tobacco ringspot virus — had seemingly infested honeybees

Interesting that this might be the.... smoking gun.
posted by hal9k at 4:58 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


YEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
posted by NiceKitty at 5:03 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


*bee smoker joke*
posted by resurrexit at 5:07 AM on February 1


The beginning of the end: John Belushi Smoking in a Bee Costume.
posted by cenoxo at 5:12 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


cenoxo knows what i'm talkin' bout
posted by symbioid at 8:49 AM on February 1


Mother Nature plays the long game, folks.

We. Are. Fucked.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:00 AM on February 1


This is the way the world ends, Symbioid, not with a bang but a 'BZZZzzzZZzzZzt (cough)!'
posted by cenoxo at 10:06 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]




Last year, I'm fairly certain that one of the Eastern European nations entered a colony of sentient linden viruses into Eurovision.

It was Moldova again, wasn't it?
posted by Ouisch at 10:36 AM on February 1


There are other plant viruses that reproduce in insects. They are thought to have been originally insect viruses that jumped to plants. So while this is worrying, it is not the first time this has happened.
posted by acrasis at 11:15 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


All jests aside, this is what your grocery store looks like without honeybees.

Looks like a prime opportunity for the micro-drone industry!
Add bees to the list of workers replaced by robotics? Profit!
posted by Thorzdad at 12:21 PM on February 1


Looks like a prime opportunity for the micro-drone industry!
Add bees to the list of workers replaced by robotics? Profit!


You think you're joking, but... (Number 5 on the list)
posted by Hactar at 4:59 PM on February 1


So, what you're saying is the computer virus from Independence Day wasn't all that far fetched?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:07 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


There are way too many red flags in the paper of experiments that could easily have been done but weren't. Blasdelb mentions some good reasons to be skeptical, but a few others that spring to mind are:

1) They did whole body viral genome histology of the mites, but not of the honeybees themselves. Why do the mite but not the actual host? Obviously it's not because of lack of histological skill in the lab.
2) They did electron microscopy on the purified virus preps but not on any honeybee tissues. If the virus was replicating like mad in the bee tissues, you would see huge numbers of capsids in the cells making some sort of exit path.

The editors should not have allowed them to use the word "infection" to describe the presence of TMV without actually proving replication. This paper would not have gotten very far in a dedicated Virology journal.

I would bet a good dinner that no bee replication will be forthcoming. The PCR results are puzzling, as I don't know bee or mite anatomy well enough to critique their microdissection, but it could be the highest tissues are the ones most contaminated with external pollen. I also don't know how likely it is that the mites are ingesting TMV during their normal routines. The correlation between sick hives and TRSV isn't conclusive, as many other viruses hop along to parasitize sick bees.
posted by benzenedream at 9:40 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


One last note - it's not like plant/insect alternating virus replication cycles are unlikely or even new, it's just that proof is lacking in this one paper.

For contrast, a paper that takes the replication issue seriously: Retention of Rice dwarf virus by Descendants of Pairs of Viruliferous Vector Insects After Rearing for 6 Years
posted by benzenedream at 10:33 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


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