Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This Virus Pushes Struggling Bee Colonies Over the Edge


More bad news for bees: A virus passed from plants to honeybees could play a role in colony collapse disorder, further complicating the picture as to why entomologists have seen a massive die off in the species worldwide.

It’s called tobacco ringspot virus, and it’s seen more commonly in bee colonies classified as “weak,” leading researchers at the USDA to suggest that the virus may play an important role in colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that began showing up around 2006 that has stumped scientists ever since. That’s a big deal, because bees pollinate roughly $14 billion worth of crops in the United States each year, and scientists aren’t exactly sure why a third of commercial bee colonies in the country died off last year.

There’s likely lots of things contributing to the phenomenon, including “polluted scents” due to pesticides, massive use of fungicides and other chemicals, parasites, and a “toxic viral cocktail” that appears to include tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV), which had previously only infected plants.

“Our study provides the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can also be infected,” said Ji Lian Li, lead author of the study published in mBio Monday.

In plants, TRSV causes leaf browning and a loss of production, and is particularly a problem in soybeans and tobacco, obviously. In bees, the virus damages the nervous and muscular system.

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