Written by Staff Writer
An increasing number of vulture bees are hauling out of nests with gut bacteria that help them eat meat, rather than fly through the air, in order to keep up with their higher-flying contemporaries.
According to a new study, published in the journal Science , vulture bees, which spend a large proportion of their time sitting or lying, have evolved their own unique set of gut bacteria for when they are inactive and eating but still manage to efficiently prepare their dinner.
The vulture bees, which are known as Moderate Orbiting Aeromonas Predators (MOAP), are the newest animal in the scientific community to develop these specialized bacteria, which is the product of DNA-based gene transfer.
The bee vulture’s special gut bacteria was created by either copying or mutating its ancestors. “Distant cousins (of the bee vulture) have been doing this for over a million years,” Theodore Reid, senior research scientist at the University of California, Davis, who led the team of researchers on the study, told CNN.
The bee vulture is an extinct relative to vulture bees, that first evolved over a million years ago, said Reid. It also evolved to sit around on tree branches, rather than flying through the air.
But now the bee vulture has evolved a diverse set of gut bacteria to efficiently eat meat, which the researchers found still needs to be cooked.
By screening over 4,000 genes found in the DNA sequences of the bacteria, Reid and his team were able to identify five to work on, which prompted the scientists to redirect their efforts into developing genetically modified genetic sequences that would enable them to quickly create their own bacterial cells that could target these specific genes.
The researchers found that they could assemble the DNA-based super bacteria quickly and pass it to other bees.
“Bees don’t have a bunch of protein factories lying around, so they had to come up with alternative enzymes that are going to synthesize the proteins that the bugs need to be able to digest those materials,” said Reid.