The supposed scientific breakthrough that identified an Australian virus as a factor in colony collapse disorder, that mysterious apocalyptic honey bee affliction, is being called into question.
The research made waves just weeks ago, when scientists announced that the genetic footprint of the virus turned up in all afflicted hives. The virus seemed to coincide with the lifting of a ban on importation of honey bees, and while the scientists never said they had a smoking gun, they said it looked like a key piece of the crime scene.
But a new genetic analysis shows that the virus was present before bees started leaving their hives and never coming back -- the strange symptom of colony collapse disorder.
The research, by Yanping Chen and Jay D. Evans of the Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory, shows the same genetic footprint in hives collected in 2002 that showed no signs of colony collapse disorder. Those samples pre-date the importation of bees from Australia, and the onset of colony collapse disorder, by as much as four or five years.
It could be that there are several strains, the researchers reported, and that a mutation is having a greater effect. Or it could be that bees are more susceptible to the virus because of other, as yet unidentified, stress -- or some combination of stress. It's been no secret in the scientific and farming -- and certainly not the beekeeping -- communities in recent years that honey bees were troubled with a litany of pests (and pesticides) that weakened them.
The finding does nothing to downplay the importance of colony collapse disorder, which has seen the disappearance of as much as 25% of the U.S. commercial bee stock. Some beekeepers lost up to 90% of their hives when the disease first showed up this time last year. Because bees are critical for agriculture -- pollinating enough food to account for about one in every three bites at any given meal -- the state of the bees is important to the state of the world's food supply.Read The Daily Green's ongoing special report Save the Bees.
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