Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Newest news on Colony Collapse Disorder

You may soon be hearing about the conclusions of the latest research on origins of colony collapse disorder in the news. Briefly, researchers with the University of Illinois are pointing the finger at viruses again, but this time with a twist. The suspected culprits are called "picorna-like" viruses. This viruses specifically attack ribosomal RNA, part of the cell's genetic machinery that produces proteins the bees need for protection against stress, disease and other assaults.

What's interesting about these new studies is that they rely on cutting-edge techniques and information that have never been available before. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the team say they used "whole genome microarrays" to compare cells from bees' guts. According to lead scientist May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois, the research was possible only because of the prior publication of the bee genome (basically a complete roadmap to all the genes in honey bee DNA) in 2006.

The team's genetic analysis of the bees' guts failed to reveal elevated expression of pesticide response genes; however the new techniques did reveal an unusually high amount of ribosome fragments in the guts of CCD-affected bees. The data are consistent with damage caused by picorna-like viruses that, in effect, “hijack the ribosome” of bees to take over these protein factories. The deeds of these viruses are apparently difficult to trace with traditional techniques. Affected bees from CCD hives had “more than their fair share” of infection with these viruses, according to May Berenbaum, of the University of Illinois, who led the study.
The results, if confirmed, would seem to make sense of many previous studies' findings or lack of findings. Weakened bees could be more susceptible to stress, disease and other assaults.

I have to admit that this is technology that I didn't learn about in graduate school. Hence I must wait in the wings to see how the drama plays out among those researchers who thrill to talk of pico-viruses. In any case, it seems that these result continue to support the idea that pest control is unlikely to be the source of the honey bees' woes.

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