America's bee colonies are collapsing. It's a big mystery, with much at stake. Green websites like TreeHugger have been on the case since the phenomenon was brought to the media's attention in 2006.
For some background see:
Where Did the Bees Go?
The Bees Did It 3,000 Years Ago
Honey Bee Mystery Solved?
Colony Collapse Disorder Arrives in the UK
Bayer in the Dock Over Pesticide Linked to Colony Collapse
Saving the Bees
Sweet News: Organic Bees Are Thriving
While honeybees seem like something most of us could live without (unless you love honey), they are a keystone species, meaning that a number of essential communities in nature, require bees to continue thriving. Without bees' pollination much of the food we enjoy today will just not grow -- from fruits and nuts, to the dairy and beef cows that feed on alfalfa.
Last winter, over 36 percent of US bee colonies collapsed, affecting honey production, but more significantly, the collapsed affected one-third of all food production that requires pollination. This is the bad news.
The good news is that an Israeli-American company Beeologics, has been racing to find an anti-viral against Colony Collapse Disorder; it's a virus they believe that is causing bee colonies to die. The news comes in time for the Jewish New Year, where thanks to bees, honey is a big part of the menu.
Beeologics TreeHugger reports, is starting full-scale FDA trials commencing next month. They are looking for beekeepers with a bee colony to spare. The team have 60,000 hives committed to trials, and are looking for about 40,000 more to participate, from the months of October to February -- so if you have any beekeeping friends, please pass them this story.
Silencing Viral Genes
According to ISRAEL21c, Beeologics' solution - Remebee - utilizes a mechanism called RNA interference (RNAi, also known as gene silencing) to hinder or inhibit gene expression. "The technology is based on naturally occurring biological agents. Conceptually, we're introducing the factor that prompts the silencing response," said Nitzan Paldi, the CTO at Beeologics.
"We didn't invent gene silencing. However, as far as we know we are among the first to use it commercially on non-humans," he tells ISRAEL21c.
Colony Collapse Disorder was first reported during the winter of 2006/7, when US beekeepers started reported losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives. Since then, the crisis has grown, with much at stake.
It's not about honey but about pollination: Pollination using managed honeybees is a critical element in modern agriculture; more than 130 crops in the US require pollination, with an annual crop value of $15 billion.
"So far, there is no solution because no one has even come to an agreement as to what the problem is," adds Paldi.
One virus strongly associated with CCD, however, is Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV). Identified by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem plant virologist Prof. Ilan Sela in 2004, the virus causes honeybees to suffer from shivering wings, followed by paralysis and death outside the hive.
At Beeologics, scientists are convinced that IAPV is the primary cause of CCD and that's what their medicine will target. "If you look how the disease spreads, it's very reminiscent of flu. Flu also starts in the fall and hits hard in the winter, the same is true of this bee virus," explains Paldi.
Successful FDA-supervised trials
The anti-viral has been tested on 100 hives in Florida from March to June and demonstrated that feeding the bees IAPV specific RNA dramatically improved bee-to-brood ratio and honey yield compared with bees inoculated with IAPV only.
Beeologics has now partnered with all major US and international institutions working on the CCD problem, including beekeepers Dave Mendez and Dave Hackenberg, the man who alerted the media to CCD after losing 90% of his bees in 2006.
"Hackenberg provided us the hives and the bees for the trials in Pennsylvania as did Mendez in Florida," says Ben-Chanoch. "It was a great sacrifice because these beekeepers were already hurting -- these hive were planned for revenue generation and the replacement cost for this size of fully populated hive is substantial."
Thanks to ISRAEL21c, for letting me reprint parts of their original story.