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article imageNew suspect for the decline of honeybees

By Tim Sandle     Jan 25, 2014 in Environment
A virus that causes blight in plants may contribute to the catastrophic decline of honeybee colonies. This could be one of the main reasons why bee populations are in decline around the world.
U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers identified tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV), a blight-causing pathogen that wreaks havoc on soy crops, in a routine screen of commercial honeybees. This could be one of the reasons for the decline in bee populations, although it is unlikely to be the only reason.
Different types of bees, including honeybees, face a wide range of threats, as Digital Journal has previously reported. Some of these are human created, like agricultural chemicals, others are the result of natural pathogens. The implications of declining bee populations around the globe has significant implications for the pollination plants and agriculture. For example, without bees to spread pollen from the male parts of plants to the female parts, fruit may not form. According to a paper issued by the the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, removing a single bee species can lead to a 30 percent drop-off in seed production for at least one plant species.
The implications of the decline in bees is aptly captured in a Digital Journal article by Alexander Baron, which starkly, but accurately, states: "The bee is one of the most important creatures on the face of this planet. For some time bees have been dying in droves, and if they die, so do we."
With the new finding, the virus appears to infect nearly every tissue of its bee hosts, excluding the eyes, and to spread between the insects via mites that feed on the bee.
There is still much to learn about the parasite and the way it moves through bee colonies. The LA Times notes that how frequently the bees are picking up the virus from plants, as opposed to passing it among themselves, and whether the bees are spreading the virus to otherwise healthy plants, are questions that remain unanswered.
The findings have been published in the journal mBio and the research is titled "Systemic Spread and Propagation of a Plant-Pathogenic Virus in European Honeybees, Apis mellifera."
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