Saturday, September 08, 2007

Einstein's Bees - Update

Back in April, under the heading "Einstein's Bees", Bee reported on the speculations about the mysteriously vanishing honey-bees, a phenomenon dubbed the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and the alleged Einstein quote about bees.

While the origin of the Einstein quote will probably remain a mystery - there are good reasons to be convinced that it has been fabricated, see for example Albert Einstein, Ecologist? in the Gelf Magazine - there is some news concerning the cause of the colony collapse:

This week's edition of Science presents the results of a study by Diana L. Cox-Foster and her colleagues, A Metagenomic Survey of Microbes in Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1146498; the abstract is free), where they describe how "they have found an imported virus that may be associated with the sudden disappearance of honey bees in the United States" (Science News of the Week, September 7, 2007).

The team has screened bee colonies from all over the US for a wide range of pathogens, and found a specific virus in most of the tested colonies affected by CCD, but in almost no healthy ones. The virus is called Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) - it was first identified by Ilan Sela, a plant virologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from dead bees taken from Israeli colonies.

The IAPV was most probably imported to the US from Australia - since 2005, U.S. beekeepers have imported large stocks of bees from Australia, especially to keep up with the growing demand for almond pollination in California.

However, another group of scientists has found no link between IAPV and CCD. The Science News pieces cites Denis Anderson, an entomologist with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research, as saying "This paper only adds further to the confusion surrounding CCD."

I am not sure either whether the IAPV from Australia can explain the collapse of bee colonies in Germany - but, as Bee mentioned in the comments of her post, somebody should check whether the North American bee breeders sold or shared colonies with Europe. Anyhow, I was surprised to learn that also bees are subject to globalisation and shipment all over the planet - including the risk of a rapid spreading of potentially deadly diseases.

So, a Virus Is Seen as Suspect in Death of Honeybees, as the New York Times puts it, but the issue is not completely settled yet - the story will go on.

Links to more information can be found at


  1. Near the end of
    Sir Ken Robinson quote Dr. Jonas Salk as saying something along the lines of:

    If all of the insects disappeared from the Earth, Man would perish. If man disappeared the Earth would flourish.

  2. Very interesting news. It shouldn't surprise us that bees or any other species from different places would carry diseases that native populations aren't immune to yet. Happened when humans spread across the planet too. I suspect that it happened with the dinosaurs, etc. too.

    Well, it might be true that if Man disappeared the Earth would flourish. It flourished without us for billions of years, but it's pretty stupid to say that the Earth isn't flourishing with Man. The Earth is going to flouish no matter what happens, even if a comet or asteroid hits. Life is very resilient in whatever forms it takes.

  3. Bee: Australian bees are not very affected by the virus, but they also do not have varroa mite infestation.
    Some think that the mite, which is endemic in NA and Europe weakens the bees' immune response to fight off the virus.

  4. Well, so much for my theory. I've noticed that they have recently been discovering extremely massive bee hives like this one:

    And so I thought that maybe they were just consolidating into large groups, but apparently that has nothing to do with anything relevant.

  5. May 2010: "The honey bee population decline deepened this winter afterover a third of all American colonies failed for a fourth winter in a row."



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