For fans of the kitschy British television show Dr. Who it is a familiar question: Where have all the bees gone to? On that front, today’s New York Times has an intriguing story about an unusual partnership between the U.S. Army and entomologists at the University of Montana:
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 food.
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.
The U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground houses a collection of scientists dedicated to defeating chemical and biological threats on the battlefield. Much of their research is focused on mechanisms and techniques for the detection of dangerous viral and microbial agents in the environment, such as those that might be used as biological weapons. In this case, the Army scientists were seeking to test a new method in which mass spectrometry is used to detect the proteins present in a biological sample and then make use of software and a large annotated database they had developed to evaluate the sources of those proteins to determine what organisms might be present. It just so happened that entomologists at the University of Montana were looking for just such a capability. With this system, the Army scientists were able to identify proteins from two microorganisms, Iridovirus and Microsporidian, in every population of dead honeybees. Based upon their evidence it is the intersection of this virus and fungus, found in the gut of the honeybee, that is suspected to be the cause of their demise.
Posted on 7 Oct 2010