Honeybee Murder Mystery: "We Found the Bullet Hole," Not the "Smoking Gun"

By Allison Bond | August 25, 2009 4:15 pm

ribosomeScientists have long wondered what exactly is killing bees in hives afflicted by colony collapse disorder (CCD), and now they may have found a clue. Bees in collapsing hives showed evidence of damaged ribosomes, which are crucial to protein production, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The researchers suggest that an onslaught of viruses may be responsible for the cellular damage.

The findings suggest that CCD, which has been blamed on everything from viruses to fungi to pesticides, may be linked to problems with protein production that could make bees more susceptible to these threats. “If your ribosome is compromised, then you can’t respond to pesticides, you can’t respond to fungal infections or bacteria or inadequate nutrition because the ribosome is central to the survival of any organism. You need proteins to survive” [AP], said lead researcher May Berenbaum.

To learn more about what may cause CCD, the researchers looked at the genes that were switched on in the guts of sick and healthy bees — the gut being both the place pesticides are detoxified and the main region for immune defense [TIME]. They found odd ribosomal RNA fragments in the guts of sickly bees which could indicate that these bees are under attack by a number of insect viruses — including deformed wing virus and Israeli acute paralysis virus — that damage the ribosomes…. Once the bees’ systems get burdened this way, they are less capable of fighting off any other threat, from pesticides to other environmental causes [TIME].

Although the study doesn’t show what causes CCD, nor how it can be cured, it may show how the disorder devastates hives. “We may not have the smoking gun,” [says Berenbaum,] but “we found the bullet hole” [The Scientist]. And that’s important economically: Honey bees pollinate a multitude of crops, and the value of their services to U.S. farmers is estimated at about $15 billion.

Related Content:
80beats: Are Reports of a Global Honeybee Crisis Overblown?
80beats: Honeybee Killer Still at Large
DISCOVER: The Baffling Bee Die-Off Continues
DISCOVER: Beepocalypse

Image: Joseph Spencer

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Marcy Prodgers

    Has any correlation been found between areas with gm crops and larger numbers of colonies collapsing?

  • Naja Lindberg

    From what little I have heard all populations are affected. Is this ribosome vulnerability pronounced in captive bred Bees? I guess I just wonder if selective breeding can help or hinder survival of the honeybee. Has any method of quarantine been developed yet to preserve and protect the genetic diversity of healthy honeybees?

  • http://www.shaklee.net/marilynmalvey Marilyn A.

    When I read this article, my first reaction was, this is probably related to all of the GMO and GE crops out there. When pesticides are embedded right into plants, what do they think is going to happen to innocent people and other creatures that come in contact with this poison? Something is fractionating the RNA- this is very unnatural. Read up on some of horrific side effects of GE- we are messing with the foundations of life. Thank you, Monsanto!

  • http://beewoman58@yahoo.com Liz N

    I agree with the GMO relationship.
    See Jeffrey M. Smith , Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of genetically engineered food. page 130, Transgene transfer to human gut bacteria is confirmed ; and page 100 ,Pollen – sterilizing barnase (toxic bacterial enzyme),in GM crops(corn and canola). Also page 58, Eyewitness reports ; Animals avoid GMOs- when given a choice animals avoid eating GM food.
    Also in Uncertain Peril; Genetic Engineering and the future of seed, Claire Hope Cummings, page 55 says that in a three year study in Germany found that GMOs had crossed the species barrier from plant pollen into bacteria in the guts of bees. These GMOs were found several generations later.
    Horizontal gene transfer of GMOs through the body can result in “insertion mutagenesis and carcinogenesis”, genome rearrangement, activation of dormant viruses, abnormal growths and metabolic disorders”, according to geneticist Mae -Wan Ho.

  • David R.(Canada)

    This can’t be right. The bees are not simply dying. If they were, there’d be dead bees in and around the hive. The fact remains, the bees are simply disappearing.
    The best explanation I’ve read is that they are losing their ability to navigate and hence getting lost.

  • Ann

    Wifi – were starting to see its effects.

    and we ban it around schools.

    insects are much much more fragile then a 6 year old kid covered in mud.


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