Genetically Modified Seeds: The Killing of the Honey Bee’s
From the flowers to the trees, bees of all kinds are very important for the continuation of not just plant life, but all life here on Earth. Without the help from these pollinating insects, the produce section of the local grocery stores might look a lot different. Although the general public has not been aware of a noticeable decline in the growth of commercial crops here in the United States, the use of genetically modified seeds (GMO) has caused the decline of the honey bee population because it has introduced bacteria and viruses into their diet, it has contaminated their food source, and is responsible for the death of the next generation of bees.
With the introduction of genetically modified seeds (GMO), consumers are being reassured that the produce they are eating is safer than ever before. With the help of these GMO’s, growing these crops does not require near the amount of pesticides as before. The question is, what effects are these GMO’s having on the insects that are meant to help in pollination, and the essential growth of these crops? When these seeds were engineered, a strain of bacteria and virus that is used as a pesticide was genetically introduced into the seeds DNA. One of the gene segments that have been introduced is a bacterium called bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is intended to deter butterfly larva from devouring the plant. The resulting bio-toxin that is now found in every cell of the plant, instead of just sprayed on topically where the larva is, is a protein called Cry1Ab (Gitlin, 2009). This bio-toxin is not a new substance that has been introduced to the bees. Beekeepers have been using it as a way to keep moths out of the hives. Over the last few years beekeepers have noticed an increase of Cry1Ab in the hives, and they have not been spraying the hives as often (Donovan, 2009). How is this happening?
The bee’s main food sources are being contaminated. Bees not only pollinate the crops but take that pollen back to the hive to become food, not only for the adult bees but for the larva as well. Bees are a very fragile insect with an immune system that cannot handle a lot of new threats at one time. They are able to fight off diseases up to a certain point. Even the smallest amount of Bt from the GMO’s could potentially have a very adverse affect on the bees. Having to consume pollen that is genetically altered with strains of a bacteria and virus’ is weakening their already delicate little bodies. With no other food sources and without the ability to know not to eat the poisoned crops, the future for the bees does not look very good. They are killing themselves off with the help of ingested bacteria strains that should never be found in their food. What about the next generation of bees?
At the rate the bees are disappearing there may not be a next generation. According to research that was done in Mexico, the affects of Cry1Ab on the bees is very interesting. It affects their judgment and their senses, just like alcohol affects humans. When observed the bees will continue to take the substance in that contains this bio-toxin and will fail to obtain enough pollen to take back to the hive (Donovan, 2009). If every bee in the hive is sitting at a GMO plant and worried only of themselves, in a moment of pure bio-toxin bliss, then there is really no way their hive will survive. The hive is a very well planned out organism. The reason there are so many bees to one hive is so they can take care of and look out for the others. The increase of Cry1Ab in their diets is not only affecting their immune systems but their livelihood as well. The way bees were created is fascinating. Over a very short period of time, a single bee is able to do a variety of different jobs in and out of the hive. With the introduction of this mind altering poison, the bees may not have future. This could devastate the growing crops, GMO or organic. It has been found that the Bt gene is not directly hazardous to the insects it has not be engineered to destroy, but the toxins it produces could put these insects such as honey bees at risk when it is ingested over a long period of time (Donovan, 2009).
Look into the role of people. How should they get involved? What will happen if they don’t? These are questions that should not be taken lightly. With hundreds of bees disappearing every day, it is imperative that an action be taken to figure out whether or not GMO’s are the major contributing factor to the epidemic of colony collapse disorder, the disappearing of the honey bees. Also, realizing that there are many factors in the bee’s disappearance can help create an awareness that will bring change. Actively searching for answers and ways to organically increase crop productions that will not harm the helpful insects is a must.
Genetically modified seeds may sound like the next best thing for a better crop production, but all the side effects need to be weighed out. The only hope the bees have for a future is to look to a new source of how crops are grown. Maybe organic is the better way to go, not only for the bees but for the people as well. Who knows what Bt and Cry1Ab are doing to the human race?
Genersch, E. (2010). Honey bee pathology: current threats to honey bees and beekeeping. Applied Microbiology & Biotechnology, 87(1), 87-97. doi:10.1007/s00253-010-2573-8
Kaplan, J. (2008). A Complex Buzz. Agricultural Research, 56(5), 8-11.
Donovan, P. (2009). Genetically Modified Crops Implicated in Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/025287.html
Gitlin, B. (2009). Is Bee Colony Collapse Disorder linked to GMOs? Retrieved from http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/09/24/is-bee-colony-collapse-disorder-linked-to-gmos/