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Biotech Science

Scientists Breeding Super Bees 248

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-could-go-wrong dept.
Elliot Chang writes "Over the last five years the world's honey bee population has been steadily dwindling, with many beekeepers citing 2010 as the worst year yet. In order to save these extremely important insects, scientists are working on breeding a new super honey bee that they hope will be resistant to cold, disease, mites and pesticides. If all goes well, the new and improved insect will continue to pollinate our crops for years to come."
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Scientists Breeding Super Bees

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  • by Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:06PM (#36753522) Homepage
    Isn't this how we got "killer bees" in the first place?
    • by myurr (468709)

      What could possibly go wrong?

      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:24PM (#36753752)
        Worst case scenario would be that they fail. From TFA:

        bees pollinate 90% of the world’s food crops

        This is not like tinkering around with a ton of fissile material for a lawn ornament, this is breeding bees to ensure we have food. Creating a second breed of killer bees is not a nightmare scenario. There have been 11 deaths in the US due to killer bees since the 90's [udel.edu]. Imagine we create a killer bee variety that's worse, and that number rises a thousandfold. Compare that nightmare scenario to 90% of the crops worldwide failing to be pollinated.

        Which would you rather risk?

        If you're that paranoid that every article about biological research makes you worry about "I am legend" scenarios or clouds of murderous insects, I don't know what you're doing typing on a computer. Skynet and the matrix people! What could possibly go wrong?!?

        • by 246o1 (914193) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:29PM (#36753826)

          Mod Parent Up!

          Not only is the killer bee problem much less of a problem than people think it is, but the potential loss of the world's honeybees is a much WORSE problem than people think it is. It's another case of the less-sexy story being more important by orders of magnitude.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          I'd rather not risk either.

          You're offering up a false dichotomy, that it is "either this, or that". Nothing is further from the truth. SOMETHING is going on with the bees, and we had better find out what it is. If it is really THAT dire, then this is an "all hands on deck" moment for science. Trying to fix the bees when it is not their fault is stupid.

          Thinking we know better than nature is just plain arrogance, which might just kill us all, and may be why we're in this boat to start with.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Thinking we know better than nature is just plain arrogance, which might just kill us all, and may be why we're in this boat to start with.

            Thinking that nature knows anything is just as arrogant.
            What makes you think that nature won't kill us all if left alone?

          • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:53PM (#36754200)

            You're offering up a false dichotomy, that it is "either this, or that". Nothing is further from the truth. SOMETHING is going on with the bees, and we had better find out what it is. If it is really THAT dire, then this is an "all hands on deck" moment for science. Trying to fix the bees when it is not their fault is stupid.

            And you're offering up another false dichotomy. We try to make resistant bees AND we try to solve the problem with the mites. There are other scientists working on the problem with the existing bees. We have enough scientists to work on both. Hopefully we'll solve the problem without breeding new bees. If that fails, hopefully we can fix the bees.

            Not trying to make resistant bees because "it's not their fault" is stupid. Plus, that's not really what we do. Aside from fish, we domesticate (read: fiddle with the genetics of) everything we eat or use in the production of food. Why would bees be any different?

            • First off, I didn't offer another "false dichotomy" as you claim. I didn't give "either one or another" I said "IF / THEN" There is no "ELSE".

              Secondly if the condition exists, then it requires us to use an "all hands on deck" meaning looking at everything.

              Third, if we try to fix the bees, and the problem isn't the bees, what are we "fixing" in the bees?

          • by IICV (652597) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @05:25PM (#36754704)

            Thinking that nature thinks, and that if it does it cares at all about our survival, is pretty much the stupidest thing I can imagine.

            Nature doesn't give a shit about us, or about anything. It just is - and if, in the process of nature taking its course, humanity is wiped out in the most horrific way possible, then nature doesn't care at all.

            So yes, we can know better than nature - because nature doesn't know anything at all.

            • Thinking that nature thinks, and that if it does it cares at all about our survival, is pretty much the stupidest thing I can imagine.

              IMO, reification [wikimedia.org] is generally pretty stupid, and has no legitimate place outside of literature and poetry, where it's called "personification". It doesn't make sense to treat nature, society, government, or any abstraction as if it has a concrete existence and can think, plan, know, desire, or do anything on its own.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @05:44PM (#36754990)

            We already know what it is killing the bees.

            A Germany company called Bayer developed a widely-used insecticide called imidacloprid destroys a bee's immune system at extremely low doses. Bees pick it up in large amounts when they visit plants that were sprayed with the insecticide, carry it back to their hive, and it spreads around rapidly. Then the bees die from any normal illness they would otherwise be able to fight off.

            One of the earliest trials in Germany resulted in all bees within the test site dying in a matter of months. For whatever reason, Bayer decided not to stop and continued to develop the insecticide. They've always known from the earliest steps about its lethality.

            Bayer has been actively trying to withhold scrutiny of their product and are suing/threatening everyone that implies they are responsible. At least in the US, the EPA isn't doing anything so it may be up to other countries to investigate and find Bayer accountable for this mess.

            So to be absolutely clear, this entire bee problem is due to Bayer selling an insecticide that adversely affects bees as a side-effect worldwide. I really wish the media would make a bigger stink about it. It's not a mystery fungus or global warming.

          • Thinking we know better than nature is just plain arrogance

            We do know better than nature. For evidence I offer up such artifical marvels as: the wheel, the screw, trans-pacific planes and boats, the transcontinental railroad in the U.S., micro SD cards, macro SD cards, buildings, seismographs, and submarines.

            If nature knows better than us, please show me where she invented anything comparable to those manmade items above that isn't completely inefficient or didn't take multiple thousands of years to develop. Go ahead, I'm waiting.

        • Worst case scenario would be they work for a while, long enough that we become dependent solely on them, and then they fail. Imagine a scenario where they survive, but find it easier to pollinate non-crop foods. They discover a niche that doesn't benefit us.
        • by sirwired (27582) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:42PM (#36754032)

          The widely-quoted "90% of the world's crops depend on bees" is simply wrong.

          The vast majority of the world's caloric intake comes from grains, legumes, and tubers, the vast majority of which require do not bee pollination.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees [wikipedia.org]

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Clearly people are not drinking enough Mead. Think of the Vikings!

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Yep. Corn, wheat, rice, sorghum, cassava, and potatoes, among others, can get by just fine without bees. Notice anything about those crops? They're the most important staples. A world without bees would certainty suck, it would limit the ability to produce certain fruits (like apples) and increase the cost of seed production for non-fruit vegetables (like onions), but I doubt it would be the apocalypse that it is made out to be. Worst case scenario is an increased need for parthenocarpic & self fert

            • by TheCarp (96830)

              and as someone who has been investigating getting some apple trees... apples need for a pollinator can be diminished by grafting different/compatible varieties to the same tree... physically reducing the distance that pollen needs to travel.

          • Don't see Hot Pockets on that list. Winning!
        • The article is talking rubbish. That factoid about bees pollinating 90% of the world's food crops is extremely inaccurate.

          • by leenks (906881)

            Yes, it is more like 70-80% of crops (http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/0703-honeybee_decline.htm). The World is still fucked without them.

            Oh, you meant in the USA, where most of the food (as here in the UK) eaten is manufactured crap - so yeah, optimistically 30% of the food the USA consumes (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1005_041005_honeybees.html).

            Clearly this isn't a problem at all.

        • Offtopic, but in "I am legend", the monster was in fact the last human, in a weird reversal of the vampire's legend (a monster that kills at daytime, just because).
        • No that is not at all the worst case scenario.

          The worst case scenario is them making all other bees extinct and then either turning out to not be a viable alternative to crop pollination of all dying themselves because that is what a mono-culture does.

        • bees pollinate 90% of the world’s food crops

          Bullshit. The most important staple crops like rice and wheat are wind pollinated, at most 30% of world food output depends on bees (the highest figure I could find, the lowest was 6%)

          The main effect that losing bees would have is that a lot of fruits, such as apples, would die out.

          If you're that paranoid that every article about biological research makes you worry about "I am legend" scenarios or clouds of murderous insects, I don't know what you're doing typing on a computer. Skynet and the matrix people! What could possibly go wrong?!?

          Yes what could go wrong if you create a new bee strain that out competes all natural bees, becomes a monoculture and then becomes susceptible to a newly evolved disease that it has no resistance to?

        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          Well I for one welcome our new Apoidea Overlords.

          Long live the queen...

      • Aside from a joke being modded (Score: 5, Insightful)?
    • by GeekBoy (10877)

      Something like that. They cross bred a very docile bee with a very aggressive african bee which produced lots of very good honey. They though that by doing so they could get a docile bee which produced lots of top quality honey. Unfortunately they ended up with a bee that would kick your a$$ if you even looked at it funny, never mind trying to get the honey.

      • by ErikZ (55491) *

        Imagine the delicious honey we could get if we cross breed that with a grizzly bear, and a Puma.

        And that creature from Aliens.

    • by hal2814 (725639)
      I thought Lorne Michaels was how we got the Killer Bees?
    • I'm a Bee Keeper. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:36PM (#36753948)

      Not exactly.

      Over in parts of Brazil, someone imported African honey bees to raise in CLOSED enclosures, and like all pets they escaped into the surrounding terrain when the colonies became large and their containment was challenged.

      What I find odd is how quickly the African honey bees inter-bred with the native wild bee populations, and it didn't take long for the native bees to show traits that not even the original parent strains had shown. In my experience of managing several 40K hives with a single queen in them, the difference between a Africanized hive and a normal hive is 9 of 10 bees will attack you from an Africanized hive as opposed to a normal hive where 1 of 10 will only "investigate" and then 1 of 20 will actually try to sting you.

      In contrast, Africanized honey bees produce less honey and are over-active in a schizzophrenic way, where when disturbed they will actually survey upto 2 miles around their hive to aggressively attack anything that moves and will remain this way notably longer than non-Africanized populations. In reality, all bees that have stingers are the females and they die after stinging once because they have a barbed stinger that rips their intestines and poison gland out of their abdomen (except the queen, she is barb-less). Why have Africanized bees not simply died-off from their suicidal attacks then? They key is cross-breeding, where only a fraction of thier genetics remains after a 50/50 mating of the original strain gets reduced to verry low genetic footprint after successive mating with other bees. Also of note, because the queen mates only once are rarely more in her life, her collection of male reproductive matterial is stored for her life inside her and it's as though it is preserved, and with successive matings that queen might lay eggs that hatch either pure non-Africanized bees or native bees: there is her genetic footprint, and then there is the share of potential offspring that are fertilized with a pre-stored African contribution.

      In my opinion, scientists realy are the ones to blame: they are introducing unnatural successive genetic statistic into a genome that wasn't aquired through natural selection. With all the corruption of Monsanto Corporation, and the corruption of prior US Army partnerships to USDA to enrich and cross-breed dangerous animals and bacteria and fungus for warfare, you simply can't trust the scientists to ever having any wholesome ethics: the scientists themselves should be given the same suspicion as would when approaching a bee hive you suspect has lost it's native queen and could be turning into African bees with a new queen.

      In reality, there are higher-quality bees that produce more honey, not as destructive when agitated, have better social customs, and are more patient in their lifestyle. The average European Honey Bee lives anywhere from 2 to 4 months, but a Africanized bee lives less than 3 weeks. That alone is proof that the Africanized strain is destructive to itself if not just a bastard to it's surroundings. By far in yield and quality of honey, the greatest replacement to the Africanized bees, as well as to phase-out all Honey Bees due to the recent contamination, I would choose the Denmark Black Bee. Like the Denmark red cow, the Black Bee is endangered. I find that quite saddening how such a higher-quality animal is always the one on the bench.

      • I don't understand this fetishism with "natural selection" by salt of the earth types every time genetic engineering comes up. Natural selection is random, meaning you can equally get "desirable" traits as well as "undesirable" traits (from the point of view of humans). Genetic engineering increases the chances that you can produce "desirable" traits and with proper precautions, reduce the chances of undesirable traits. With Africanised bees, it is not even the fault of modern genetic engineering. It was th

    • Not only been tried, it's unnecessary.

      Commercial crops aren't pollinated by honeybees alone. There are many insects responsible for insect pollination. Not to mention that most crops are pollinated manually by pureeing male plants and spraying them on the others.

      This situation is a typical example of so-called in-the-know bloggers making completely false claims due to ignorance. Slashdot: so very, very average.

    • by sjames (1099)

      The part the media doesn't hype so much is that south and central american bee keepers have been quite successful keeping "killer" bees and like them for their high honey productivity.

    • by ladoga (931420)
      Problem is that these super bees could potentially outcompete all other pollinating insects creating sort of a monoculture. Then species dependant on these other pollinators would suffer or even go extinct (birds, parasites etc.). It would damage the ecosystem in unpredictable ways.

      It's much safer to have 100 different species pollinating our plants than one. Imagine if there is only one species that does all pollination for our plants and for example a new disease wipes out all it's population.
  • Wasn't that how Africanized Bee's were created? Wikipedia thinks so. [wikipedia.org]
  • I thought the problem was that they had to be resistant to cell phone signals? Has anyone considered tinfoil hats for bees? (because tinfoil bee hats, of course, would be ambiguous grammar.)

  • by Normal Dan (1053064) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:12PM (#36753586)
    Have they figured out exactly why bee population is dwindling? It seems like they are just fixing the symptoms instead of the actual problem.
  • by smoothnorman (1670542) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:12PM (#36753588)
    Lest we forget the "Brazilian killer bee" problem, (which, I believe is still an issue), was the result of a good intention to improve the bee breed by increasing their active response via cross-breeding with more aggressive African strains. Then (as the story goes) someone (c1957) left off the queen excluder (grill that prevents from the queen from becoming a "free agent") and as a result dangerous bees escaped into the wild and several terrible horror films were born. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africanized_bee [wikipedia.org]
    • Several horror films, but not much else except a story here or there by someone who get's a bee hive in/on/near their house (in which case, it really doesn't matter what kind of bee it is, they'll all want you to go far far away from them). But they've yet to terrorize and drive us into the oceans yet.

      Doesn't worry me. I can think of more dangerous creatures, like the Philosorapture.

  • by God'sDuck (837829) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:14PM (#36753622)

    I'm hoping they aren't stingy with the modifications.

    Hone your puns, folks. Fi hive.

  • by inject_hotmail.com (843637) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:16PM (#36753652)
    Scientist #2: Well, let's figure out why, and attempt to correct the cause...

    Scientist #1: No, wait! We can use our powers of scientifity to create a new, ultraimpervious, megastrong bee...that way it'll survive anything we do to make it's natural habitat inhospitable...

    Scientist #2: Hmmm, you might be on to something...but what if it's not just the environment? What if it's some other natural evolution of another species that is now a predator to the bee?

    Scientist #1: Fuck that shit. It's gonna die up against our new SuperBee(R).

    Scientist #2: I'm almost convinced. What if this strikes an unnatural balance across the continent? How can we be sure that we don't fuck shit up for everything else?

    Scientist #1: Think of the money we're going to make once we patent the gene!

    Scientist #2: Holy shit, your solution is perfect! Let's get our friends to write some endorsements, and we'll be golden.

    Scientist #1: I'm glad we've come to an understanding.
    • Scientist #2: Hmmm, you might be on to something...but what if it's not just the environment? What if it's some other natural evolution of another species that is now a predator to the bee?

      Scientist #3: You idiot, that IS a factor of the environment! I agree with Scientist #1, fuck that shit. We want honey and our honey source is dwindling. So we're going to make a better honey source.

  • I'm not a scientist in this field, but I'm curious (if anyone knows the actual reason) why we can't just figure out what is actually killing the bees?

    I know they've been trying to figure it out for sometime now with no luck.. what the heck could it bee? (yes.... yes that was intentional... I'm sorry).

    • by GeekBoy (10877)

      This is the last I read about it:
      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101007183018.htm [sciencedaily.com]

    • by GeekBoy (10877)

      Here some information from that article I posted:

      Shan Bilimoria, a professor and molecular virologist, said the bees may be taking a one-two punch from both an insect virus and a fungus, which may be causing bees to die off by the billions...

      "researchers discovered through spectroscopic analysis evidence of a moth virus called insect iridescent virus (IIV) 6 and a fungal parasite called Nosema."

    • Probably for the same reason we can't figure out what is causing the rise in Autism: $$$
      • by iONiUM (530420) *

        Yea but if we don't figure out Autism, it sucks, but only for the Autistic.

        If we don't figure out this, millions of people may die from lack of crops. So it sucks for everyone.

        • Yes, but most of them are poor people. Look how much everyone cared when Goldman Sachs speculation on food futures caused them to starve and see how much they'll care when lack of bees makes the same demographic starve for another reason. Turns out, you don't get to control a lot of capital as a result of empathy or compassion (well, except by exploiting them in the non-sociopath segment of the population).
  • and pretty soon you'll have Planet of the Bees instead of Planet of the Apes...

  • Didn't they do this a few years ago, when they created the Africanized bee or "killer bees"? Well, by all means keep it up, what could possibly go wrong?
    • by perbert (241785)

      Didn't they do this a few years ago, when they created the Africanized bee or "killer bees"? Well, by all means keep it up, what could possibly go wrong?

      According to the article, they're working with Canadian bees. So---so long as the bees are kept away from the hockey games and alcohol---nothing will go wrong!

  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:23PM (#36753740) Homepage

    This reminds me of a cartoon that was circulating around Digital Equipment Co. in the 1970's. Written by a DEC employee the strip's hero was Digital Dog, a super K9 whose owner had feed him LSD to make him smart. Anyway it seems some scientists wanted to create a cure for some disease so they combined the DNA from Killer Bees with the DNA of "Tricky Dick" (don't ask!). Anyway they ended up with a huge bee with Nixon's face and appetite for cottage cheese and ketchup.
    Digital Dog had to trap him so NASA could get him strapped to rockets to blast him into space.

    The same cartoonist latter wrote for Creative computing and a few other magazines a strip called "bit pit" which starred a VAX computer.

  • No reason they can't get rid of the stinger and the hyperaggressive behaviors.

    • by vlm (69642)

      No reason they can't get rid of the stinger

      Then the bears (etc) will eat them all and we'll have no wild population left. Probably not a good idea, long term.

      For safetys sake, I advise experimenting by killing all the mosquitos first, then once you know what made mosquitos extinct, try not doing that to the bees.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        The fungi and virera are killing the wild hives. We will have to keep bees if we want bees. And the bears won't be an issue.

  • ... I've seen enough movies to know lab created entities *never* turn on their creator.

  • This long after lunch stories like this give me a rumbly in my tumbly. Time for something sweet!

  • what we need is our crops pollinated.

    Got that? Honey=optional. Food=required.

  • But they'll also need to create a breed of super dogs: the super dogs with super bees in their mouths, so that when they bark they shoot bees at you.

    [obscure? [google.com]]
  • Bee Keeper #1:: "Sure is quiet here today."
    Bee Keeper #2: "Yes, a little TOO quiet, if you know what I mean."
    Bee Keeper #1:: "No, I'm afraid I don't."
    Bee Keeper #2:"You see, bees usually make a lot of noise, NO NOISE, suggests no bees."
    Bee Keeper #1::: "Oh, I understand now. Oh look, there goes one."
    Bee Keeper #2: "To the bee-mobile!"
    Bee Keeper #1: "You mean your Chevy?"
    Bee Keeper #2: "Yes."
  • by Tenebrious1 (530949) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @04:37PM (#36753962) Homepage

    "If all goes well, the new and improved insect will continue to pollinate our crops for years to come."

    Wow, that's going to be one super busy bee.

    But isn't that putting all our gets in one basket? I mean, maybe we want *two* of them just in case one dies?

  • Bee colony confirmed as first round pick in next years NHL draft by Chicago Blackhawks.

  • Hey, Monsanto effectively owns the US soy industry by patenting soy DNA; couldn't these bees' get DNA get patented, in turn making their breeding (even unintentional) a licensing violation?
  • I for one welcome our new Super Bee overlords!
  • This is a Great idea! That is, until the new super bees decide humans taste better than pollen and nectar.
  • Only the '80s version had loud guitars and were called Stryper. They pollinated with Bibles, which might have helped churches but didn't do much for crops....
  • Hmm. Maybe if you stop spraying all that shit on out food we (and the bees) wouldn't be in such a mess.

  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @07:51PM (#36756322)

    NEWS FLASH!

    Transgenic bees found able to crossbreed with dragonflies!

    The resulting insects have five to six inch wingspans, stingers able to pierce Kevlar and really nasty dispositions.

    Scientists have dubbed them "dragonbees" and are said to be feverishly at work on a transgenic predator to combat the problem.

    More at 6:00PM

    • Don't worry. The LizardFrogs will eat the DragonBees. And the BirdSnakes will eat the LizardFrogs. The GorillaBears will eat the BirdSnakes and then will die when winter rolls around.

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