U.S. Bee Collapse May Be Due to Alien Virus

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
September 6, 2007

An imported virus may be a culprit in the puzzling disappearance of honeybees in the United States, experts say.

Ever since the colony collapse disorder (CCD) epidemic was first reported in 2006, beekeepers across the country have seen adult bees disappear, leaving their honey and pollen behind. (Related news: "Mystery Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S." [February 23, 2007].)

A new comparison of healthy and unhealthy honeybee colonies shows that a virus called the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV), first identified in 2002, may be contributing to the bees' demise.

During the study, researchers found the virus in most of the affected colonies they tested, but in almost no healthy ones.

The virus alone may not be sufficient to cause the bee dropoff. But other stressors, including a type of mite, as well as other viruses and bacteria, may be involved.

Other researchers expressed doubt about the findings, saying they have not found a link between the virus and the bee collapse.

The study will be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

Viral Presence

Suspecting a viral link, researchers took several samples from four disease-stricken honeybee operations as well as two healthy operations.

When the team ran the samples through a gene sequencer, the researchers found a multitude of viruses.

Analyzing samples from individual hives, however, IAPV turned up in 25 of the 30 sick colonies, but in only 1 of the 21 healthy colonies.

"The only candidate that was left standing at the end of this fairly rigorous analysis was IAPV," said study co-author Ian Lipkin, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York.

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