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New Virus Linked To Colony Collapse In Bees Discovered

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(Photo by Krista Simmons/LAist)
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There's no doubt that the survival of our agricultural industry depends on bees. The pollination that's carried out by honeybees is necessary for the production of about one-third of all food and beverages here in the U.S. Which is why so many scientists are trying to figure out the root cause of colony collapse.

Up until this point, no one was quite sure whether colony collapse was a plague, pollution or pesticide. New evidence published by MBio suggests that tobacco ringspot virus, a pollen-borne pathogen that causes blight in soy crops, could be the culprit.

This report states that honeybees are becoming infected by a pollen-born RNA virus that spread systematically through the bees and hives from one host to the next. Traces of the virus were detected in every part of the bee examined, except its eyes. Of course, scientists are cautious to say that this is the solitary cause of the colony collapse disorder.

Yan Ping Chen, a bee pathologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Maryland and lead author of the study, told the L.A. Times:

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“They have a high mutation rate,” said Chen. “Because of their genetic diversity, we see a lot of host jumping...I want to be cautious. The cause of colony collapse disorder remains unclear. But we do have evidence that TRSV along with other viruses that we screen on a regular basis are associated with lower rates of over-winter survival.”

There have been other suspicions too, including insecticides that lower their immune responses and promote replication of a viral pathogen, as well as Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, was correlated with colonies deemed “weak” due to a variety of stresses.

All of these factors seem to become an issue in the winter time, when the bee's honey supply is depleted. And if they don't make it through the winter, that means that means California's $3-billion almond industry, and countless other crops throughout the country, are pretty much screwed.