Gene sequencing identifies virus as possible cause of honeybee
1 October 2007
Researchers at Columbia University, in collaboration with 454 Life Sciences,
a Roche company, have identified a virus implicated in the deaths of
millions of honeybee colonies using the company's genome sequencer system.
The findings explain how foreign organisms living in and among the bees were
identified by reading sequences of DNA isolated from the bee colonies.
Dr. Ian Lipkin, Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman
School of Public Health, and colleagues sequenced DNA and RNA samples that
were extracted from collapsing and healthy bee colonies in search of any
pathogen responsible for the collapse. The study was published in the online
edition of Science.
The research identified five major bacterial
groups, four lineages of fungi and seven types of viruses. While most of the
foreign organisms were found in both the collapsed and healthy bee colonies,
one virus, Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), was found only in the
As the researchers reported in Science: "We have not proven a causal
relationship between any infectious agent and CCD; nonetheless, the
prevalence of IAPV sequences in CCD operations, as well as the temporal and
geographic overlap of CCD and importation of IAPV infected bees, indicate
that IAPV is a significant marker for CCD."
"Unbiased 454 Sequencing
technology enabled us to rapidly assemble a comprehensive inventory of
microflora in colony collapse disorder (CCD) and non-CCD populations, and
provided the sequence information needed to identify candidate pathogens,"
stated Dr. Lipkin. "We view this work as a model for investigating epidemics
of unexplained infectious disease."
Bees play an integral role in the
world food supply and are essential for the pollination of more than 90
fruit and vegetable crops worldwide. The economic value of these
agricultural products is placed at more than $14.6 billion in the United
States alone. In CCD, honeybee colonies inexplicably lose all of their
worker bees. CCD has resulted in a loss of 50% to 90% of colonies in
beekeeping operations across the United States. The observation that
irradiated honeycombs from affected colonies could be repopulated with
healthy bees, while non-sterilized combs could not, suggested an infectious
basis for CCD. Suspected pathogens were screened for association with CCD by
examination of samples collected from several sites over a period of three
"We are very pleased to see our technology applied to solve real-world
problems. We are hopeful this latest research will help eliminate the threat
of CCD to global agriculture" said Christopher McLeod, president of 454 Life
Sciences. "The chief advantage of 454 Sequencing technology is how it
quickly enables researchers to identify the organisms present in complex
environments without any advance knowledge of the sample."
CCD was first reported in the fall of 2006 in the Unites States. Since then,
CCD has been reported in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and
Greece. A recent survey of 13 states by the Apiary Inspectors of America
showed that over a quarter of U.S. beekeepers have lost, on average, half of
their bee colonies between September 2006 and March 2007.
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