Dependable Erection

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Unintended consequences?

I don't know how closely any of you have been following the story of Colony Collapse Disorder which has afflicted honeybees in the US over the past few years. My own interest, aside from hoping i'll have fresh vegetables and tree nuts to eat next year, is mostly academic, not commercial. Every couple of years i'll acquire a gallon or two of honey and ferment a batch of mead. It's an interesting beverage with a great history and mythology, relatively easy to make, and uncommon enough in the US that it makes a great gift and can be imbibed on special occasions.

I've got a notion in the back of my head that meadmaking might keep me busy in my golden years, but they're still a little ways off.

Seems like there was a breakthrough recently in figuring out what might be the cause of CCD, which has claimed anywhere from 30% to 65% of commercial honeybee hives the past three years, depending on which source you read.
The scientists report using a novel genetic technique and old-fashioned statistics to identify Israeli acute paralysis virus as the latest potential culprit in the widespread deaths of worker bees, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

Next up are attempts to infect honeybees with the newfound virus to see if it's indeed a killer.

"At least we have a lead now we can begin to follow. We can use it as a marker and we can use it to investigate whether it does in fact cause disease," said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist and co-author of the study. Details appear this week in Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.

the article goes on to describe the techniques used by scientists to reach this preliminary conclusion, which makes for interesting reading, if you like that sort of thing.

Here's what catches my eye:
The earliest reports of colony collapse disorder date to 2004, the same year the virus was first described by Israeli virologist Ilan Sela. That also was the year U.S. beekeepers began importing bees from Australia — a practice that had been banned by the Honeybee Act of 1922.

Now, Australia is being eyed as a potential source of the virus. That could turn out to be an ironic twist, since the Australian imports were meant to bolster, not further damage, U.S. bee populations devastated by another scourge, the varroa mite. Meanwhile, officials are discussing reinstating the ban, said the Agriculture Department's top bee scientist, Jeff Pettis.
(emphasis mine)

How many times do we see this over the past 150 or so years? From gypsy moths to kudzu and all kinds of little shellfish creatures, someone says "hey, I've got an idea," and the next thing you know we're all ass-deep in caterpillars.

I'm hoping the biologists have figured this one out, and the solution will be relatively straightforward. I like having bees around.

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  • I hope they've figure it out this time. There have been a number of false leads so far. I think of the US as so agriculturally robust that it would be difficult to unintentionally destroy its agricultural base, but CCD scares me a little bit.

    It would be strangely fitting if the Africanized bees in the US were somehow resistant to CCD, but I doubt that will happen. Oddly, I just read on Wikipedia (which has articles on CCD, Africanized bees, and a bunch of other bee-related stuff) that Africanized bees are more likely to abscond -- pack up and move leaving no forwarding address -- but that's not the same as CCD.

    Ok, I really am going to bed now. ;)

    By Blogger Joe, at 12:24 AM  

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