Bee Functional Genomics Using Engineered Symbionts

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Insects are among the most widespread and diverse animals on our planet. While genetic techniques are well-established for studying some insects, such as fruit flies, similar tools do not exist for millions of other species. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are important agricultural pollinators and model organisms for studying learning and social behavior.

Our project will further develop and disseminate a toolkit that allows researchers to alter the expression of bee genes by engineering native bee gut bacteria (see key papers). They will be able to colonize newly emerged bees with these bacterial symbionts to reduce expression of a specific target gene throughout the bee body in order to ascertain the function of a bee gene and its importance. This FUnctional Genomics Using Engineered Symbionts (FUGUES) methodology will be applied to bees in the current proposal, but it is expected to be widely applicable to invertebrates, particularly other arthropods, including insects with bacterial symbionts that are vertically inherited (e.g., aphids).

These research activities will be integrated with education by supporting two experiential learning streams at The University of Texas at Austin. Overall, this project will create new genetic parts that expand and improve a symbiont genetic engineering toolkit, test applying FUGUES to new bee genes to create better control constructs, further optimize FUGUES protocols to ensure that they are robust and effective, apply FUGUES to additional bee species, and broadly disseminate these methods to bee researchers at other institutions.

Key Papers:

  • Leonard, S.P., Powell, J.E., Perutka, J., Geng, P., Heckmann, L.C., Horak, R.D., Davies, B.W., Ellington, A.D., Barrick, J.E., and Moran, N.A. (2020) Engineered symbionts activate honey bee immunity and limit pathogens. Science 367:573576. https://doi.org/10.1021/acssynbio.7b00399
  • Leonard, S.P., Perutka, J., Powell, J.E., Geng, P., Richhart, D., Byrom, M., Kar, S., Davies, B.W., Ellington, A.D., Moran, N.A., Barrick, J.E. (2018) Genetic engineering of bee gut microbiome bacteria with a toolkit for modular assembly of broad-host-range plasmids. ACS Synth. Biol. 7:1279-1290. https://doi.org/10.1021/acssynbio.7b00399

Links:

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation (IOS-2103208).

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