shame-on-youBarbara H. Peterson

Farm Wars

Here we go again, folks. Recently Natural News published an article titled “New, all-natural pesticide unveiled by scientists – and it won’t kill the bees!“

Good news on the honeybee front — a team of scientists in the UK have created a biopesticide made from spider venom and plant protein that may provide hope for the endangered pollinators.

A study published in the research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B [PDF] states that the experimental, nontoxic biopesticide Hv1a/GNA is “unlikely to cause detrimental effects on honeybees.”

Let’s just take a little peek at the source document – “Proceedings of the Royal Society B,” shall we?

Recombinant GNA, and the fusion protein Hv1a/GNA were produced in the yeast expression system…

Definition of “recombination:”

Re·com·bi·na·tion noun \ˌrē-ˌkäm-bə-ˈnā-shən\: the formation by the processes of crossing-over and independent assortment of new combinations of genes in progeny that did not occur in the parents.

What is a “fusion protein?”

Fusion proteins or chimeric proteins (literally, made of parts from different sources) are proteins created through the joining of two or more genes that originally coded for separate proteins. Translation of this fusion gene results in a single or multiple polypeptides with functional properties derived from each of the original proteins. Recombinant fusion proteins are created artificially by recombinant DNA technology

Sounds like genetic engineering to me. But wait, there’s more…

The making of the Hv1a/GNA pesticide from the Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology:

Optimising expression of the recombinant fusion protein biopesticide ω-hexatoxin-Hv1a/GNA in Pichia pastoris: sequence modifications and a simple method for the generation of multi-copy strains


Production of recombinant protein bio-insecticides on a commercial scale can only be cost effective if host strains with very high expression levels are available. A recombinant fusion protein containing an arthropod toxin, ω-hexatoxin-Hv1a, (from funnel web spider Hadronyche versuta) linked to snowdrop lectin (Galanthus nivalis agglutinin; GNA) is an effective oral insecticide and candidate biopesticide. However, the fusion protein was vulnerable to proteolysis during production in the yeast Pichia pastoris. To prevent proteolysis, the Hv1a/GNA fusion expression construct was modified by site-directed mutagenesis to remove a potential Kex2 cleavage site at the C-terminus of the Hv1a peptide. To obtain a high expressing clone of P. pastoris to produce recombinant Hv1a/GNA, a straightforward method was used to produce multi-copy expression plasmids, which does not require multiple integrations to give clones of P. pastoris containing high copy numbers of the introduced gene. Removal of the Kex2 site resulted in increased levels of intact fusion protein expressed in wild-type P. pastoris strains, improving levels of intact recombinant protein recoverable. Incorporation of a C-terminal (His)6 tag enabled single step purification of the fusion protein. These modifications did not affect the insecticidal activity of the recombinant toxin towards lepidopteran larvae. Introduction of multiple expression cassettes increased the amount of secreted recombinant fusion protein in a laboratory scale fermentation by almost tenfold on a per litre of culture basis. Simple modifications in the expression construct can be advantageous for the generation of high expressing P. pastoris strains for production of a recombinant protein, without altering its functional properties.


So, according to Natural News, genetic engineering, cloning and mutagenesis are “all natural.” So much for labels. Need I say more?

©2014 Barbara H. Peterson

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4 Responses to ““All Natural” Bee-Saving Pesticide is Genetically Engineered”

  1. If any component is genetically engineered, which includes the microorganisms used to produce the substance, then it is genetically engineered. There are plenty of natural alternatives and we do not need to go down this road.

  2. Rick says:

    From Wikopedia — biopesticides, naturally occurring substances that control pests (biochemical pesticides).
    They are typically created by growing and concentrating naturally occurring organisms and/or their metabolites including bacteria and other microbes, fungi, nematodes, proteins, etc. They are often considered to be important components of integrated pest management (IPM) programmes, and have received much practical attention as substitutes to synthetic chemical plant protection products (PPPs). . . These biodegradable, economical and renewable alternatives are used especially under organic farming systems.”

    The article from Journal of Industrial Microbiology is talking about a substance that is a combination of substances produced by spiders and certain plants that can be effective as a pesticide. The idea would be to replace synthetic man-made insecticides, some of which may be harmful to bees, with this biopesticide made up of substances that occur in nature that would not be harmful to bees. The biopesticide would be collected from yes, genetically engineered microorganisms, genetically engineered to express the product. The biopesticide itself is not a genetically engineered organism. It would be the same substance we would have if we rounded up enough spiders and snowdrop lectin plants and somehow were able to extract and isolate the biochemicals they produce from them directly. Since that is impracticable, the next best thing is to design a microorganism that can produce it in abundance directly. The concept is really no different from the method we use today to produce insulin and rabies vaccine. The journal article is the summary of research that examined genetic changes that increase the efficiency of the process so that the biopesticide could be collected in economical quantities.

    You apparently disagree, but I actually think this is a promising and appropriate application of biotechnology. I think I would prefer my neighbors applying this product to their crops rather than synthetic pesticides.

  3. Abe says:

    A skunk by any other name stills stinks!
    Barb I found this in a back issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer from last winter about soil. The bi-monthly rag is put out by the Minnesota DNR (Dept of Natural Resourses). All though they don’t mention the culprits by name, they do point in the right general direction. Your readers may find this of interest.

    The Roots of Healthy Habitat

    The vitality of wildlife, plants, and people depends on the fertility of soil.
    by Brian DeVore

    Build Robust Soil

    Whether on the farm or in a garden, healthy soil supports not only plants but also the billions of microorganisms beneath our feet. Here are ways to build soil health:
    •Keep soil covered. Plant a quick-growing cover crop such as buckwheat after harvesting the season’s last garden vegetables. The cover protects the soil, smothers weeds, and puts lots of roots in the ground.
    •Till the cover crop in spring to enrich the soil before planting.
    •Use mulch between garden rows and walk lightly on the ground to avoid creating paths of compacted soil.
    •Work the soil when dry, not wet, to minimize compaction.
    •Compost, compost, compost. Backyard compost piles rich with organic matter—vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, leaves, grass—create humus. Add it to soil to boost biological activity.

  4. amicus curiae says:

    Excellent detail info as always Barbara, thanks so much.
    sending this to my local beekeeper.
    we had heard reports but hadnt got any real detail till now.