Friday, September 07, 2007

Israeli-Australian virus is chief suspect in collapse of U.S. bee colonies

"Scientists have found a virus associated with the destruction of a large fraction of American commercial bee colonies, but they have not been able to prove that it is the cause of the mysterious disease that has wreaked havoc on the bee industry," reports Thomas H. Maugh II of the Los Angeles Times.

"The virus, Israeli acute paralysis, may have been introduced by bees from Australia whose importation was first permitted in 2004, about the same time that the disease, Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, began appearing in the United States," Maugh reports. "Australian bees do not suffer from the disorder, leading researchers to speculate that the virus interacts with chemicals in the environment or with another infectious agent, such as the varroa mite, which is not common in Australia." Investigation is continuing.

Maugh offers useful background: "Although the United States has experienced other bee die-offs, the latest episode has been one of the worst, affecting about 23 percent of beekeepers. Typically, 50 to 90 percent of a keeper's colonies are affected as worker bees fail to return to their hives, leaving the queen with a handful of newborns. Agricultural experts view the deaths with alarm because bees are required to pollinate about a third of the nation's food crops, including almonds, cherries, pears, blueberries, strawberries and pumpkins."

"We don't have a great deal of buffer" for dealing with bee losses, because the U.S. has 2.5 million bee colonies, half as many as in the 1940s and '50s, entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State told Maugh. Another researcher reported that about 30 percent of bees he studied in Israel incorporated the virus into their genes and had become resistant to it. "If the virus is shown to be the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, it may be possible to replace current bee colonies with hives of resistant specimens," Maugh writes. (Read more)

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