Engineered symbionts activate honey bee immunity and limit pathogens

P. Leonard Sean, J. E. Powell, J. Perutka, P. Geng, C. Heckmann Luke, D. Horak Richard, W. Davies Bryan, D. Ellington Andrew, E. Barrick Jeffrey and A. Moran Nancy,  Science,  367:573-576. 2020.

Honey bees are essential pollinators threatened by colony losses linked to the spread of parasites and pathogens. Here, we report a new approach for manipulating bee gene expression and protecting bee health. We engineered a symbiotic bee gut bacterium, Snodgrassella alvi, to induce eukaryotic RNA interference (RNAi) immune responses. We show that engineered S. alvi can stably recolonize bees and produce double-stranded RNA to activate RNAi and repress host gene expression, thereby altering bee physiology, behavior, and growth. We used this approach to improve bee survival after a viral challenge, and we show that engineered S. alvi can kill parasitic Varroa mites by triggering the mite RNAi response. This symbiont-mediated RNAi approach is a tool for studying bee functional genomics and potentially for safeguarding bee health.


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