Engineered symbionts activate honey bee immunity and limit pathogens

Science. 2020 Jan 31;367(6477):573-576. doi: 10.1126/science.aax9039. Epub 2020 Jan 30.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / immunology*
  • Bees / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Neisseriaceae / genetics*
  • Neisseriaceae / physiology*
  • RNA Interference
  • Symbiosis
  • Varroidae / microbiology*

Supplementary concepts

  • Snodgrassella alvi