Martin Beye, a professor at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany and a former postdoctoral fellow in Page's lab at UC Davis, served as the lead author of the research, “Improving Genetic Transformation Rates in Honeybees,” published in Scientific Reports in the journal Nature.
The work was accomplished in Beye's lab in Germany and the Page labs.
“The significance of this paper lies in the ability to modify the chromosomes of honey bees and study the effects of individual genes,” said Page, former professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University provost.
“The honey bee genome,” Page explained, “is composed of about 15,000 genes, each of which operates within a complex network of genes, doing its small, or large, share of work in building the bee, keeping its internal functions operating, or helping it function and behave in its environment. The ability to transform, change, genes, or add or delete genes from chromosomes of bees, has been exceptionally challenging and the effort spans decades. Martin tackles problems such as this. He takes on the most challenging genetic problems and solves them.”
Beye was the first to map the major sex-determining gene for honey bees, considered one of the most important papers ever published on honey bee genetics. He “then moved on and developed a way to implement gene editing, being able to alter single genes within the genome,” Page related. “Now he has developed a method to introduce new genetic material into the honey bee.”
In their abstract, the six-member team wrote that “Functional genetic studies in honeybees have been limited by transformation tools that lead to a high rate of transposon integration into the germline of the queens. A high transformation rate is required to reduce screening efforts because each treated queen needs to be maintained in a separate honeybee colony. Here, we report on further improvement of the transformation rate in honeybees by using a combination of different procedures.”
Specifically, the geneticists employed a hyperactive transposase protein (hyPBaseapis), tripling the amount of injected transposase mRNAs. They injected embryos into the first third (anterior part) of the embryo. These three improvements together doubled the transformation rate from 19 percent to 44 percent.
“We propose that the hyperactive transposase (hyPBaseapis) and the other steps used may also help to improve the transformation rates in other species in which screening and crossing procedures are laborious,” they wrote in their abstract.
For their research, the scientists chose feral Carniolan or carnica colonies. Carniolans, a darker bee, are a subspecies of the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera.
Beye joined the Page lab in 1999 as the recipient of a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship, an award given to the brightest young German Ph.Ds to provide an opportunity for them to work in the laboratories of U.S. recipients of the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize. Page, who won the Humboldt Prize in 1995, continues to focus his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior.
Following his postdoctoral fellowship, Beye returned to the Page labs at UC Davis and ASU as a visiting scientist. (link to https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/honeybee-gene-find-ends-150-year-search ) Beye spoke at UC Davis this spring as part of his Humboldt-funded mini sabbatical, the guest of Page and hosted by the Department of Entomology and Nematology. During his visit, he and UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson developed collaborative projects that they will begin in the spring of 2019. “This is exactly what the Alexander von Humboldt foundation wants – to build and extend interactive networks of researchers,” Page commented.
First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports of the journal Nature by a nine-member team, including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts to parasitoids of rice insect pests, can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.
The field and laboratory work, done in China, targeted the brown planthopper, Nilaparvata lugens, or BPH, the economically most important rice pest in Asia. Results showed that BPH densities were “significantly lower in the rice fields with the banker plant system compared to control rice fields without banker plant system,” the scientists said.
“Many people are familiar with the concept of a ‘trap crop'-- a sacrificial crop which is planted mixed in with or adjacent to an economically important crop and the trap crop serves to manipulate pests away by offering them a more attractive/suitable host alternative,” said Nansen, an assistant professor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “The use of banker plants in pest management is similar to the use of trap crops, but banker plants typically have multiple ecological functions.”
The researchers planted a grass species, Leersia sayanuka, next to rice. It attracted a planthopper (Nilaparvata muiri), which does not infest rice.
Rice is the stable food of more than 50 percent of the global population, and 60 percent of the Chinese population. However, scientists concur that the world's rice production needs to increase drastically over the next three decades to meet the growing food demand in Asia. Growing concern over BPH outbreaks and higher pesticide usage led to the sustainable pest management study.
Titled “Use of Banker Plant System for Sustainable Management of the Most Important Insect Pest in Rice Fields in China,” the research is unique in that it is the first published study describing the attraction of alternative hosts to parasitoids of rice insect pests. In rice systems, previously published research involved planting sesame as a nectar source to promote the establishment and persistence of a predatory bug; and studies involving parasitoids.
BPH, found only in southeast Asia and Australia, feeds on the rice crop at all stages of plant growth and can also transmit two viruses, rice ragged stunt virus, and rice grassy stunt virus. Damage can commonly result in a 60 percent yield loss. An infestation is often called “hopper burn,” referring to yellow patches that soon turn brown.
Although BPH is not found in the United States, this kind of study “may be an approach to consider in California in the future if insecticide resistance continues to impeded effective insect control,” Nansen said.
Noting the importance of the banker plant system, Nansen said that banker plants “involve promotion of plant diversity to enhance pest self-regulatory ecosystem functions, such as predation and competition, to reduce susceptibility of agricultural crops to native and invasive pests. Also, banker plants “may provide resources, such as shelter, pollen and nectar or alternative preys to improve the establishment and persistence of beneficial insect populations used to control a specific pest.”
The first successful banker plant system, developed in 1977, involved tomato as the banker plant, a parasitoid and a whitefly.
Nansen is affiliated with both UC Davis and the Zhejiang Sustainable Pest and Disease Control, Institute of Plant Protection and Microbiology, Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou, China.
Co-authors of the research paper include lead author Zhongxian Lu and colleagues Xusong Zheng, Yanhui Lu, Junce Tian, Hongxing Xu, all of the Zhejiang Sustainable Pest and Disease Control; and Pingyang Zhu, Facheng Zhang and Guihua Chen of the Jinhua (China) Plant Protection Station.
The study was jointly supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China, Zhejiang Key Research and Development Program, and the Special Fund for Agro-scientific Research in the Public Interest.
The paper on bee immunity and toxin metabolism was published Nov. 9 in Scientific Reports, part of the Nature Publishing Group.
“First, the results suggest that forager bees may use antimicrobial peptides—short sequences of amino acids with general activity-- to reduce microbial growth in stored food resources,” said Rachel Vannette of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “This would be a largely unrecognized way that bees protect honey and potentially other stored resources from microbial spoilage. Second, this work shows that forager bees produce toxin-degrading enzymes in nectar-processing tissues.”
“This may allow forager bees to degrade many different kinds of compounds in nectar, before it is stored,” Vannette said. “Bees also vary in their ability to do this—foragers have a greater ability to degrade a variety of compounds than nurses. This may have implications for hive health and management.”
"Nice paper,” said Gene Robinson, director of the Institute for Genomic Biology and Swanlund Chair of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved in the research. “It had been well known that the division of labor in a honey bee colony is supported by extensive differences in brain gene expression between bees that perform different jobs. This new research shows nicely that this genomic differentiation extends beyond the brain; different complements of active genes in a variety of tissues make each bee better suited for the job it needs to perform."
The journal article, titled “Forager Bees (Apis mellifera) Highly Express Immune and Detoxification Genes in Tissues Associated with Nectar Processing,” is the work of senior author/assistant professor Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and co-authors Abbas Mohamed, graduate student researcher in the Johnson lab and a member of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Group, and assistant professor Vannette, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology this fall after serving a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. At Stanford, Vannette examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
Johnson, whose research interests include animal behavior, evolution, theoretical biology and genomics, recently began long-term research on the honey bee immune system and the causes and consequences of economically important diseases /syndromes such as colony collapse disorder.
Mohamed, who has researched honey bees since 2011, is currently focusing on pesticide detoxification as a part of his master's degree research. "Honey bees have always fascinated me,” Mohamed said, “and there is nothing more exciting than to be at the edge of discovery, learning new things, and contributing to the field of our understanding of these amazing creatures.”
The team plans to follow up with functional assays to examine the potential of these gene products to (1) reduce microbial growth and (2) degrade a variety of natural and synthetic compounds.
“Pollinators, including honey bees, routinely encounter potentially harmful microorganisms and phytochemicals during foraging. However, the mechanisms by which honey bees manage these potential threats are poorly understood. In this study, we examine the expression of antimicrobial, immune and detoxification genes in Apis mellifera and compare between forager and nurse bees using tissue-specific RNA-seq and qPCR. Our analysis revealed extensive tissue-specific expression of antimicrobial, immune signaling, and detoxification genes. Variation in gene expression between worker stages was pronounced in the mandibular and hypopharyngeal gland (HPG), where foragers were enriched in transcripts that encode antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and immune response. Additionally, forager HPGs and mandibular glands were enriched in transcripts encoding detoxification enzymes, including some associated with xenobiotic metabolism. Using qPCR on an independent dataset, we verified differential expression of three AMP and three P450 genes between foragers and nurses. High expression of AMP genes in nectar-processing tissues suggests that these peptides may contribute to antimicrobial properties of honey or to honey bee defense against environmentally-acquired microorganisms. Together, these results suggest that worker role and tissue-specific expression of AMPs, and immune and detoxification enzymes may contribute to defense against microorganisms and xenobiotic compounds acquired while foraging.”