A Swarm of Controversy
August 29, 2016 5:36 AM   Subscribe

In their struggle for survival against killer mites, bees get an unlikely ally: Monsanto.

What Really Happened At Monsanto's Bee Conference: Monsanto’s chemicals have been partially blamed for the massive bee die-off. So could the company really host an honest conversation about fixing the problem?
posted by Blasdelb (12 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
If appropriate RNA expressed in the blood is such an effective defense against parasites, why don't animals express appropriate RNA naturally? Or do they?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:50 AM on August 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


These aren't animals, but one of the more effective bacterial systems for immunity against viruses essentially uses the same concept as RNAi but with a set of protein guides: CRISPR. When bacteria get attacked by the viruses that infect them, known as bacteriophages, and somehow manage to survive, CRISPR systems will save bits of the bacteriophage DNA in the bacterial genome and use it to produce RNA that acts as a guide to identify the foreign DNA in the future and cut it up.

I wouldn't expect to see CRISPR-like systems in animals because of how much faster our parasites evolve than we do. Our immune systems already have sensing molecules called Toll-like receptors (TLRs) that recognize shapes associated with pathogens that haven't evolved away from expressing those shapes, which is mostly environmental bacteria not specifically adapted to hurting us. Systems that would pass RNA guides down from generation to generation could only evolve quickly enough to fit the same niche, and I imagine wouldn't do it as effectively. If there were some mechanism to sample pathogens for their genetic information like bacteria do then we'd be in business, but that would present all sorts of concerns for giving RNA viruses a very convenient pathway to highjack and would need very serious mechanisms for ensuring that it didn't produce auto-immune reactions.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:05 AM on August 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Skinner assures her they will send in "wave after wave of" Chinese needle snakes, then snake-eating gorillas, and then "when wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death."
posted by adept256 at 6:16 AM on August 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


I have been to a number of apiculture meetings over the past few years that have had scientific presentations on RNAi. Monsanto aren't the only ones saying this is a very promising technology for controlling varroa mite. Right now beekeepers rely on applying pesticides (like coumaphos, amitraz, fluvalinate, formic acid, etc) inside the hive to control mites, and varroa mites have an unfortunate history of developing resistance to pesticides.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:40 AM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


fimbulvetr, what do the people at the conferences say about Joe in Australia's objection?
posted by clawsoon at 10:04 AM on August 29, 2016


I haven't heard that objection brought up.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:13 AM on August 29, 2016


If appropriate RNA expressed in the blood is such an effective defense against parasites, why don't animals express appropriate RNA naturally? Or do they?

Animals don't, but plants do.
posted by maryr at 12:18 PM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Next to the plants is a half-gallon jar of gleaming white powder. This is pure double-stranded RNA, enough to cover a few hundred acres. Making just this much cost around $100,000—still far too expensive for widespread commercial use.
Holy shit, I cannot imagine having half a gallon of RNA (OK, double stranded is far more stable, to be fair) sitting around.
posted by maryr at 12:35 PM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


This:

Monsanto’s chemicals have been partially blamed for the massive bee die-off.

Is only true as far as very ignorant people doing the blaming. Buried pretty far down in the first article, and not at all mentioned in the second one, is the fact that Monsanto doesn't make neonicotinoids. There are nutty suggestions out there that RoundUp might kill bees, but those are made by the same people who claim it also causes cancer, autism, and "leaky gut", in other words, bullshit.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:41 PM on August 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


Monsanto doesn't make Neonicotinoids

And maybe Neonicotinoids aren't even to blame.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:17 AM on August 30, 2016




Jesus. Those poor bees & beekeepers. They should've been warned - perhaps they could have covered the hives for a couple of days.
posted by maryr at 9:53 AM on September 1, 2016


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