The rapidly dwindling population of honey bees
in the United States and Canada (averaging 30% losses per yesr) has been
a serious concern for anyone aware of our dependence on bees in
maintaining the food chain.
Now it seems that we may finally have a lead in
the hunt to find a solution for our ailing and disappearing bees.
It has been one of the great murder
mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees?
Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee
colonies in the United States alone have suffered "colony collapse."
Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified
Now, a unique partnership of military
scientists and entomologists appears to have achieved a major
breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.
A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have
apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by
Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online
science journal PLoS One.
Exactly how that combination kills bees
remains uncertain, the scientists said a subject for the next
round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the
fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty
work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow
Liaisons between the military and academia
are nothing new, of course. World War II, perhaps the most profound
example, ended in an atomic strike on Japan in 1945 largely on the
shoulders of scientist-soldiers in the Manhattan Project. And a
group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of
Montana in Missoula has researched bee-related applications for the
military in the past developing, for example, a way to use
honeybees in detecting land mines.
But researchers on both sides say that
colony collapse may be the first time that the defense machinery of
the post-Sept. 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have
teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never
have solved on their own.