Tom Newman

Frankston, Australia

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Artist's Description

Bee at Mornington, Victoria, Australia.

D300; Nikkor 105mm F/2.8
f/8.0, 1/4000sec, ISO: 250

A honeybee killer is on the loose in America—and last September, entomologists inched closer to fingering a suspect. The vanishing bee syndrome, dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD), has wiped out 50 to 90 percent of bee colonies in 35 states and been blamed on everything from pesticides to virulent new pathogens. However, a genetic analysis of the microorganisms harboured by the stricken bees has now strongly linked CCD to Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV), an infectious agent that triggers shivering wings, paralysis, and death. But no one knows whether IAPV is a cause or a symptom of CCD. In fact, many researchers believe it may simply be an opportunistic infection that swoops in on bees already weakened by stress, parasitic mites, and the rigours of travelling to pollinate crops.

Physician Ian Lipkin of Columbia University and entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State analysed separate colonies within beekeeping operations affected by CCD as well as colonies in operations unaffected by it, taking samples of genetic material from more than 1,200 bees. They also took a sample of healthy bees from Australia and four samples of royal jelly from bees in China. Lipkin then used a rapid genome-sequencing technique to identify RNA from a variety of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. He found that if four pathogens, including IAPV, were present, the colonies were invariably hit by CCD. Most significantly, IAPV was present in 25 out of 30 CCD-affected colonies, but in only one of the healthy U.S. operations.
V 425 29/03/2011

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