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Correction: Billions of bees are dying...

Today's New York Times has a piece on the Colony Collapse Disorder that is plaguing 27 states and counting. According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, billions of honeybees have died. So far. And there's still little indication as to what's causing it.

A team of entomologists and other scientists are earnestly investigating, but it will take time to figure it out. However, the most likely suspect at this point is not cellphone radiation - surprise, surprise - but a pesticide developed by Bayer called imidacloprid. It's sold under the brand name Gaucho. France banned it back in 1999, despite heated objections from Bayer, because their bee population was collapsing because of exposure to imidacloprid. If it does end up being the primary cause of the bee population collapse, it's another example of why multinational corporations can't be trusted to act in the public's best interest, and should be heavily regulated in areas like this.

In case things get really bad, though, you might want to pick up some duct tape and plastic sheeting on the way home tonight. Just in case.



"It's sold under the brand name Gaucho."

Fucking Steely Dan fans! They ruin everything!

Jake, as a Steely Dan fan, I resent that accusation! Seriously, though, I thought about referencing what a great album (and song) Gaucho is in the post, but my attorney advised against it.

This just in from the LA Times:

Experts may have found what's bugging the bees
A fungus that hit hives in Europe and Asia may be partly to blame for wiping out colonies across the U.S.

By Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writers
April 26, 2007

A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is wiping out bees across the United States, UC San Francisco researchers said Wednesday.

Researchers have been struggling for months to explain the disorder, and the new findings provide the first solid evidence pointing to a potential cause.

But the results are "highly preliminary" and are from only a few hives from Le Grand in Merced County, UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. "We don't want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved."

Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country as well as in some hives where bees had survived. Those researchers have also found two other fungi and half a dozen viruses in the dead bees.

N. ceranae is "one of many pathogens" in the bees, said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University. "By itself, it is probably not the culprit but it may be one of the key players."

Cox-Foster was one of the organizers of a meeting in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday where about 60 bee researchers gathered to discuss Colony Collapse Disorder.

"We still haven't ruled out other factors, such as pesticides or inadequate food resources following a drought," she said. "There are lots of stresses that these bees are experiencing," and it may be a combination of factors that is responsible.

Historically, bee losses are not unusual. Weather, pesticide exposures and infestations by pests, such as the Varroa mite, have wiped out significant numbers of colonies in the past, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the current loss appears unprecedented. Beekeepers in 28 states, Canada and Britain have reported large losses. About a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million commercial colonies across the United States have been lost since fall, said Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville.

"These are remarkable and dramatic losses," said Hayes, who is also president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Besides producing honey, commercial beehives are used to pollinate a third of the country's agricultural crops, including apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, strawberries and pumpkins. Ninety percent of California's almond crop is dependent on bees, and a loss of commercial hives could be devastating.

"For the most part, they just disappeared," said Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg, who was among the first to note the losses. "The boxes were full of honey. That was the mysterious thing. Usually other bees will rob those hives out. But nothing had happened."

Researchers now think the foraging bees are too weak to return to their hives.

DeRisi and UCSF's Don Ganem, who normally look for the causes of human diseases, were brought into the bee search by virologist Evan W. Skowronski of the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland.

Dr. Charles Wick of the center had used a new system of genetic analysis to identify pathogens in ground-up bee samples from California. He found several viruses, including members of a recently identified genus called iflaviruses.

It is not known whether these small, RNA-containing viruses, which infect the Varroa mite, are pathogenic to bees.

Skowronski forwarded the samples to DeRisi, who also found evidence of the viruses, along with genetic material from N. ceranae.

"There was a lot of stuff from Nosema, about 25% of the total," Skowronski said. "That meant there was more than there was bee RNA. That leads me to believe that the bee died from that particular pathogen."

If N. ceranae does play a role in Colony Collapse Disorder, there may be some hope for beekeepers.

A closely related parasite called Nosema apis, which also affects bees, can be controlled by the antibiotic fumagillin, and there is some evidence that it will work on N. ceranae as well.

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Hey Bryan - thanks for pointing this article out. Dr. Cox-Foster seems to be taking the lead on resolving this issue, and it's good to see that it's getting the attention it requires. My sense of impending doom is receding a bit now...

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