Thursday, July 29, 2010

Genetically modified crops and their role with honeybees.

I came across a wonkish study that looked into the interactions of GMO's and honeybees.  As with many other suspects of colony collapse, it showed some very real characteristics that could be contributing to CCD but still not exactly a smoking gun, just another piece in the puzzle of an unhealthy environment for pollinators.

The protein that is in BT crops (crops genetically altered to be poisonous to "pests") causes potential learning disabilities of bees that slows down the ability of the hive to be fully productive and forage effectively.

Of course none of these findings aren't anything a well paid corporate lawyer couldn't find enough holes in to drive a semi-truck of GMO corn syrup through.  Tobacco attorneys were just as effective at avoiding empirical evidence and dragged litigation out for decades until a national settlement.
That is the nature of the problem, being that there are so many variables and no smoking gun, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt is nearly impossible. 

GMO's also have the problem of being in the DNA of crops, DDT was found to be harmful and eventually was taken off the market.  Extracting a piece of genetic code does not come off of store shelves, like DDT could be take off the market.  GMO's have their place, increasing protein contents of crops for impoverished countries can very well be a net positive.  If crops could be made to grow with partial sea water irrigation that could be a net positive for many countries in the world.  All that being said, opening a Pandoras box by purposely making crops poisonous should treated much more judiciously.  Getting a GMO crop out of the environment when turns out to be hazardous is like putting toothpaste back in the tube.

How do you undo DNA?

The original abstract:

Does Cry1Ab protein affect learning performances of the honey bee Apis mellifera L. (Hymenoptera, Apidae)?

Instituto de Ecologia A.C., Km. 2.5 Carretera Antigua a Coatepec No. 351 El Haya, 91070 Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.


Genetically modified Bt crops are increasingly used worldwide but side effects and especially sublethal effects on beneficial insects remain poorly studied. Honey bees are beneficial insects for natural and cultivated ecosystems through pollination. The goal of the present study was to assess potential effects of two concentrations of Cry1Ab protein (3 and 5000 ppb) on young adult honey bees. Following a complementary bioassay, our experiments evaluated effects of the Cry1Ab on three major life traits of young adult honey bees: (a) survival of honey bees during sub-chronic exposure to Cry1Ab, (b) feeding behaviour, and (c) learning performance at the time that honey bees become foragers. The latter effect was tested using the proboscis extension reflex (PER) procedure. The same effects were also tested using a chemical pesticide, imidacloprid, as positive reference. The tested concentrations of Cry1Ab protein did not cause lethal effects on honey bees. However, honey bee feeding behaviour was affected when exposed to the highest concentration of Cry1Ab protein, with honey bees taking longer to imbibe the contaminated syrup. Moreover, honey bees exposed to 5000 ppb of Cry1Ab had disturbed learning performances. Honey bees continued to respond to a conditioned odour even in the absence of a food reward. Our results show that transgenic crops expressing Cry1Ab protein at 5000 ppb may affect food consumption or learning processes and thereby may impact honey bee foraging efficiency. The implications of these results are discussed in terms of risks of transgenic Bt crops for honey bees.

No comments: