Recently there was a meeting of European and U.S. Scientists studying Colony Collapse Disorder held in London at the International Conference of the Society of Invertebrate Pathology. The conference was held at the University of Warwick, organized by Rothamsted was sponsored by vita-europe, a company that produces products that aid in honey bee health.
Unexplained colony deaths this past season, coupled with an extraordinarily poor honey crop in the U.K. this year led Max Watkins, the Technical Director at Vita to call the meeting, and to explore further what is going on. Even though poor weather certainly had something to do with the situation, in Maxs words "an array of unexplained research findings indicates a more sinister and long-term challenge."
He goes on, "Although I firmly believe that varroa (mites) is at the core of the problem, the developing interplay of other factors while unsettling for beekeepers, is fascinating yet perplexing for researchers. The answers can only come from a thorough scientific approach.
"Investigations are underway across the globe and many suspects and accomplices are under suspicion viruses once of little consequence are now becoming more prominent killers, but a clear pattern is elusive. One novel line of enquiry in Israel is focusing on 'gene silencing' in an attempt to suppress the expression of bee viruses in the honey bee genome," Max summed up.
Summaries from recent work discussed the role of viruses in Colony Collapse Disorder, stressing that no single virus has been identified as being the cause. Colonies with CCD apparently have multiple viral infections, usually with four or more viruses: commonly Deformed Wing Virus, Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, Black queen cell Virus and Acute Paralysis Virus, out of the 18 viruses discovered widely in U.S. colonies.
Varroa (a mite) and nosema (a fungus-like pathogen) are also implicated in CCD, and varroa saliva is now known to destabilize the immune system of honey bees, said Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State. The impact of these viruses and other secondary infections, when the immune system is already compromised was further discussed by Cox-Foster.
Research by Dr. Ilan Sela of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem concentrated on detecting viral RNA incorporated into the honey bee genome, Max reported.
He went on, honey bee colonies with IAPV (Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus)-specific dsRNA within their genes triple their honey production and grow in size. Bees fed with IAPV specific dsRNA have a longer lifespan and are protected from some other viruses. However, bees infected with the live IAPV alone are rapidly killed, falling to the floor with spasms and paralytic seizures. Nutritional and environmental stressed can also contribute to the trigger that causes expression of the virus when it is incorporated in to the honey bee genome.
Finally, it was shown that unexpectedly high residues from varroa treatments, notably coumaphos (a pesticide), have been found in many hives in the U.S., indicating over-dosing and misuse of illegal treatments, said Max Watkins.
So, a bigger audience is beginning to look at Colony Collapse Disorder, bringing in additional resources and experiences. Perhaps when these are brought to bear, and the additional funds from the USDA and other sources materialize, something substantial will come to be. This conference, though a good start for those involved, certainly didnt break any new ground. We hope that this is just a beginning.
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