Bee Colony Collapse Is Associated with a Virus

We don't know if the virus is the causal agent, but a recent Science paper used a metagenomics approach to find that bees from colonies that have collapsed are infected with a virus (and it's the same virus in different colonies). Essentially, the researchers ground up bees, sequenced the whole mess, and using previous genome data, subtracted out the genome of the honey bees.

What was left were some bacterial symbionts, and in the failing colonies, a virus. From the BBC:

But in 2004, beekeepers began seeing and reporting a new and serious phenomenon, in which entire colonies would desert their hives, leaving behind their brood and stocks of food - a syndrome that was later labelled Colony Collapse Disorder....

"The genome of the honeybee had just been completed," noted Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist from Penn State Universiity. "So it was possible to do the (genetic) sequencing and then eliminate the genetic material of the bees."

The scientists' trawl revealed a diverse cargo even in healthy colonies. Eight types of bacteria appeared to be present in all bees, suggesting they perform some function useful to their hosts.

The researchers also found genes from parasites, fungi, and viruses, in both healthy hives and in those which had undergone collapse. But IAPV [Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus] only appeared in samples from CCD populations....

As its name would suggest, IAPV was first identified in Israel, but the symptoms it produces in bees there are quite different.

Whether this is down to a small genetic difference in the virus between continents, or whether IAPV is acting in concert with different environmental factors, is an open question.

Also open is the question of how the virus arrived in the US. One finger of suspicion points to Australia, from where the US began importing honeybees in 2004 - the very year that CCD appeared in US hives.

The researchers found IAPV in Australian bees, and they are now planning to go back through historical US samples to see if the Antipodean imports really were the first carriers.

If they were, the US might consider closing its borders to Australian bees.

If IAPV does turn out to be a major factor causing CCD, there may be little that scientists or beekeepers can do about it.

"We're unlikely to come up with a treatment for viruses in bees," said Dr Pettis, "and so beekeepers are likely just to have to keep the other things that might affect CCD, such as mites, under control."

While a 'cure' probably isn't feasible, a simple PCR screen could be used to determine which colonies are sick, and those colonies could be destroyed (and, obviously banned from importation and transport).

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Well, this is actually good news, it seems to me. Finding the cause is the first necessary step to getting the problem under control. The obvious parallel is to AIDS in humans, which was a death sentence in the early days before anyone could even be sure what was causing it. It's still a very bad thing, but at least we have good ideas about how to mitigate it.

By Tom Buckner (not verified) on 07 Sep 2007 #permalink

They will blame global warming for this knowing these crack-pots from the hoakie UNION of CONCERNED SCIENTISTS WHICH IS REALY A BUNCH OF FAKES

By gooney bird (not verified) on 08 Sep 2007 #permalink

Um.. just because the bacteria is present in all those bees doesn't necessarily make it either beneficial or a symbiont to them. Couldn't it low-level parasitic, or cause no problems at?

you wrote:
> While a 'cure' probably isn't feasible, a simple PCR screen could be used to determine which colonies are sick, and those colonies could be destroyed.

I assure you, there will be no destruction of bee hives. The last time that was done was about 15 years ago to prevent the spread of the varroa mite. It didn't work. Destroying African bees at the border didn't work either. The virus is already so widespread that probably a third of US bees already have it. What needs to happen now is to determine if the virus causes honey bee collapse, or if it is just a sign that their immune systems have failed, due to other causes. What is really needed is a plan to restore the overall health and vigor of the honey bee colonies.


My parents still keep bees on their farm. In the last month, their hives have begun to go downhill. They don't expect the hive to make it, especially through the winter. As the hive dies off, bees from other colonies start to raid it (as well as some other species of hymenoptera), making off with easy meals, and likely spreading the virus.

Unless there is an outside factor affecting the bees, they stand a decent chance of survival via natural selection.

By Robster, FCD (not verified) on 10 Sep 2007 #permalink

bt works only cus it gives a hole for bacteria to penetrate. wonder if this virus caused the crickets to collapse last year and harvester ants this year.

By genesgalore (not verified) on 11 Sep 2007 #permalink

I wonder if there could be IAPV resistant strains of honeybees?

By Christina (not verified) on 12 Sep 2007 #permalink

Christina, well, there sure will be after all the non-resistant ones have died off. This seems to be a pretty standard pattern of epidemic in a population with no immunity.

But how does this relate to the fact that most of the CCD colonies did NOT have their hives raided?