Unravelling CCD: virus and fungus combinedly killing bees?

The mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder, a sudden die-off of bee populations that spread across the world since 2006, is slowly being solved. CCD may not have one single cause, but rather multiple factors adding up, including pollution and diseases – and causing bee keepers to suddenly loose bee colonies on a massive scale.

Yesterday the open-source science platform PLoS ONE published new research by the University of Montana. Jerry Bromenshenk, their leading bee expert, found out the combination of a parasitic microfungus and a virus could be the main risk factors. The bees would be able to survive either of the two alone, but when a colony gets infected with both microorganisms the bees suddenly die off.

The researchers cite the virus Iridoviridae and the fungi Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae as probable cause of bee losses in the USA, Europe, and Asia. Virtually all collapsed colonies that were examined would carry the virus (which is common, but usually not lethal) and one of the two fungi.

Honey bees play a vital role in pollination – the essential reproductive process for flowering plants and of crucial importance for global food production (estimates go as far a stating one third of our food production somehow depends on bee pollination). Armed with the new study researchers may finally have a route to combat CCD.

Or did we fail to see through the good news? CNN Editor Katherine Eban was a little more suspicious than accepting anything with the peer-reviewed status of PLoS ONE publications. In her article today she mentions a link between Montana bee expert Bromenshenk and the Bayer group – indeed, the German pharmaceutical giant. Subsidiary Bayer Crop Science wouldn’t mind helping us get rid of the two nasty little fungi and that mean little virus. Even if they had nothing to do with CCD.

For other bee scientists, perhaps without pharmaceutical agendas, that would mean the mystery of collapsing bee colonies is yet to be unravelled.

(c) Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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