Monday, December 10, 2007

Not So Sweet

Bees, the busy little bugs responsible for the production of the delicious natural sweetener honey and for the pollination of approximately one third of the United States' agricultural crops, which includes apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, strawberries and pumpkins, are disappearing. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), this abnormality is now wiping out bee populations across the United States.

Preliminary research points to the fungus Nosema ceranae, responsible for widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia. Nosema ceranae, a single-celled parasitic fungus has been found in affected hives around the country. Losses of bee populations are not unusual, weather, pesticides and infestations by pests, such as the Varroa mite, have destroyed significant numbers of colonies in the past, especially in the 1960s and the 1970s. Currently, beekeepers in Canada, England and in 28 of the United States, have reported extraordinary losses. “About a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million colonies across the United States have been lost since last fall, said Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville.” There is some evidence that the antibiotic fumagillin can be used to control Nosema ceranae as it affects the closely related parasite called Nosema apis, which also affects bees. "There was a lot of stuff from Nosema, about 25 percent of the total," Evan W. Skowronski of the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Aberdeen, Md. said. "That meant there was more than there was bee RNA. That leads me to believe that the bee died from that particular pathogen." However, research shows that a fungus may be one of the many possible causes for CCD. Several viruses, including those of the newly recognized genus called iflaviruses, have been identified in ground-up bee samples. It has not been determined whether or not these small, RNA-containing viruses that also infect the Varroa mite are pathogenic to bees.

Whether it is a fungus, a virus or another unexplored cause for the loss of bee populations, CCD is a reality, and bee populations are in decline. The importance of these hard working insects is unparalleled. These unsung heroes are crucial for the agricultural industry. A loss of commercial hives would be disastrous. Not to mention the loss of honey as a natural sweetener enjoyed by many in their morning cup of tea.

Nosema ceranae

A parasite of arthropods, a single celled fungus that primarily affects the Asiatic honey bee, Apis cerana. It may cause nosemosis, the most widespread of the adult honeybee diseases. The dormant stage of nosema is a long-lived spore, which is resistant to temperature extremes and dehydration.


Iflaviruses are members of the genus Iflavirus, which have similarities to other viruses with positive single stranded RNA as their genetic information.


1 comment:

Dominic B. said...

If the bees all die, we are in deep, deep &%$@! I just hope this virus clears and that bees adapt...this worries me a bit!