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Researcher: Bee Colony Collapse Associated with Viral, Fungal Infection

A Texas Tech biologist said researchers may have a greater understanding of the mysterious colony collapse disorder.

Written by John Davis

The study is showing an association of death rates of the bees with the virus and fungus present.

The study is showing an association of death rates of the bees with the virus and fungus present.

The sudden death of bee colonies since late 2006 across North America has stumped scientists. But today, researchers may have a greater understanding of the mysterious colony collapse disorder, said a Texas Tech biologist.

Shan Bilimoria, a professor and molecular virologist, said the bees may be taking a one-two punch from both an insect virus and a fungus, which may be causing bees to die off by the billions.

Bilimoria is part of a team of researchers searching for the cause of the collapse. Led by research professor Jerry Bromenshenk from the University of Montana in Missoula, the group also includes virologists and chemists from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and the Instituto de Ecologica AC in Mexico.

Their study was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. Read the study>>

“At this stage, the study is showing an association of death rates of the bees with the virus and fungus present,” Bilimoria said. “Our contribution to this study confirms association. But even that doesn’t prove cause and effect. Not just yet.”

The mysterious colony deaths have caused major concern with scientists since much of agriculture depends on bees to pollinate crops.

To discover what might be attacking bee colonies, the team ground up dead bees that had succumbed to colony collapse disorder. Using analytical equipment, researchers discovered through spectroscopic analysis evidence of a moth virus called insect iridescent virus (IIV) 6 and a fungal parasite called Nosema.

The insect virus is closely related to another virus that wiped out bee populations 20 years ago in India, he said. Also, unlike previous research that found the deaths may be caused by a virus with RNA, the IIV 6 contains DNA.

“Our DNA discovery puts this field in a whole new direction,” he said.

Bilimoria said Texas Tech supplied the virus material for the experiments and were tested on bees with the fungus. Though an association between exposure and death was found, scientists don’t yet know if the two pathogens cause CCD or whether CCD colonies are more likely to succumb to the two pathogens.

“To prove cause and effect, we will have to isolate the virus and fungus from bee colony, and then reinfect with same virus and fungus,” Bilimoria said.

In the next part of the research project, Bilimoria will work to isolate the virus from infected bees.

“Once we isolate and identify the virus, we will have a way of monitoring it,” he said. “It is easier to fight the problem if we know what the culprit is.”

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3 Responses to “Researcher: Bee Colony Collapse Associated with Viral, Fungal Infection”

  1. David Says:

    I am a beekeeper in Lubbock and to my knowledge I have not seen the effects of CCD. It might be that I wouldn’t know the difference in CCD deaths and insecticide deaths. I am a bit confused, though, as many articles I have read state beekeepers discover no bees in the hives; not dead bees, no bees. Not even dead bees in the yard. Now I read CCD kills bees. I treat my colonies for nosema, foul brood disease, trachea mites and varoa mites, though I believe this region to be too arrid for the mites to survive. I also deal with the wax moth. It is my worst enemy if a colony becomes too weak to drive them off. Could a practice of medicating for the nosema be enough to break the link (fungal/viral) to thwart CCD? I realize I can only medicate during off-nectar flow so if an extended period of rainy days during flow kept the bees indoors too long nosema could set in?
    I’m very interested in knowing your findings, as I know the whole nation/world is.

  2. mike Says:

    we have a colony that has taken residence behind the siding on our house. they seem sickly as we have a few dead bees daily on our front door step. and when one manages to get in the house, they act sickly and die fairly quickly. you want to study them? come and get them :)

  3. Jane Says:

    I will gladly donate the bees that are living in the sotol plants in my front yard – if someone is willing to come and get them. I live in Kerrville, Texas. If interested, please contact me and I will send photos to verify their existance. Sotol plants are a member of the lily family, though they look like yucca or agave, and they have thorns and the leaves are long and spiky, so one would have to take that into consideration if they want to harvest these bees. Thanks

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Featured Expert
Shan Bilimoria

Shan Bilimoria is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

View his profile in our online Experts Guide.


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