Scientists have discovered how a group of tiny bees is turning on the deadly coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people worldwide.
The new study is the first to show how these small bees are changing the way the virus infects humans.
Researchers used the same type of genetic technology to track down the virus in other insects and animals.
The work was published Monday in the journal Science.
The findings have implications for how the virus might be transmitted to humans, said Dr. David L. Kohn, an infectious disease specialist at the National Institutes of Health.
“What we’re looking at here is a very small number of the very few [in the study], which is a critical threshold that we can’t reach without really knowing what is going on,” he said.
Scientists were surprised to find that a subset of the bees was turning on their own coronaviruses.
The team studied the behavior of the common bee colony of Apis mellifera, which has a host of genes that make the virus jump between cells, like a virus does.
This new behavior of Api bees is so common that it’s a core trait of the bee’s entire life cycle.
The virus is transmitted by bee stings.
In some cases, the virus can be shed from the stings and then shed from an infected person, causing the person to develop symptoms.
In other cases, it can be carried into the body through contact with infected tissues.
In all cases, a person will recover after a few days, but it’s possible for the virus to remain in the body for months, with a new strain that can be transmitted by a new virus emerging each time.
That means the new virus could potentially be transmitted from person to person over time, making the problem much more serious than the recent cases.
The study also shows that a particular group of these bees is changing how the coronaviral infection moves across a person’s body, which is likely to make the infection more virulent.
This is a really important finding that tells us about how coronavirin infection can be passed from person-to-person,” said lead author Dr. Jeffrey P. Jones, a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota.
He and his colleagues have known for some time that this small subset of Apidyridae bees is showing signs of switching on their coronavires.
That could help researchers identify how to prevent it from turning into more widespread coronavirotic pandemic.
In the new study, the team used a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to identify which genes in Api were changing.
“That’s a really surprising finding because it means that the majority of the Api colony is not changing, but we’re just detecting that a small subset is. “
We were very surprised that we were able to detect that a very, very small subset was changing,” Jones said.
“That’s a really surprising finding because it means that the majority of the Api colony is not changing, but we’re just detecting that a small subset is.
This might be a new way to stop the virus before it’s too late.”
The scientists discovered that some of the colonies were actually turning on some of their own genes.
This was surprising, because the scientists have seen that other groups of Apidi bees were changing their own genomes in the lab before they started producing new viruses.
It could be that the Apis were creating a new gene, called a COVID-19 gene, that was being used by Api colonies, which are able to switch on their new coronavirs and then release them into the environment.
“This might indicate that this is a new and novel way to produce new coronviral variants that might be more effective in the future,” Jones added.
He noted that a similar approach could be applied to other viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, which had been found to use the same genes as coronavire to generate new strains that have been resistant to most drugs.
“There are many things we don’t understand, such a small sample size, but this really is the tip of the iceberg,” Jones noted.
The researchers are now trying to figure out how these gene changes are being used.
“I think this is the next step,” Jones told ABC News.
“Hopefully we can learn more about how it all works, so that we could design more effective therapies.”