Sep
08
2007

Plan bee: Foreign virus may be causing population drop

Sting of comfort: A foreign virus orginating in Australia may be a major cause in the huge number of bees that have disappeared over the past three years.  (Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Sting of comfort: A foreign virus orginating in Australia may be a major cause in the huge number of bees that have disappeared over the past three years. (Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Here’s a major breakthrough in a possible cause for the devastating drop in honeybee populations. You may remember reading about that here on Science Buzz this past spring.

Researchers are reporting in the Journal Science this week that a virus – Israeli acute paralysis (IAP) – may be the cause for the disappearance of huge numbers of bees.

The issue rose to the forefront this spring with intense media coverage of the drop in honeybee numbers. In some areas, it’s reported that honeybee populations have dropped 50 to 90 percent. And no bees mean less pollination of plants, an important factor in growing fruits and vegetables we eat.

While theories for the bees’ disappearance were bouncing all over the place – from cell phone wavelengths to exposure to pollen from genetically engineered crops – the IAP virus appears to have the strongest correlation. Scientists have been able to use a new genetic technique to identify germs and viruses that are in the bees. And there seems to be a high number of IAP in bees near beehives that have been wiped out.

While IPA carries the name Israel, it was actually first found in Australia. And the wipe-out of bee colonies started roughly the same time that U.S. beekeepers began importing bees from Australia to augment their populations. Prior to 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not allow the import of foreign bees to the U.S. Those policies are under review right now.

Also, researchers say that IPA might not be the sole reason for the bee population drop. They’re continuing to look at other factors as well.

One ray of hope is that there appear to bees in Israel that are genetically resistant to IAP. Of course, that would mean that some of them would need to be imported to the U.S.

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