Uh Oh: Pollen Can Spread Viruses From Domesticated Bees to Wild Ones

By Andrew Moseman | December 27, 2010 12:43 pm

More trouble for bees: A study out in the open-access journal PLoS One finds that viruses that previously had been the bane of domesticated honeybees have spread to wild pollinators.

A pattern showed up in the survey that fits that unpleasant scenario. Researchers tested for five viruses in pollinating insects and in their pollen hauls near apiaries in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois. Israeli acute parasitic virus (IAPV) showed up in wild pollinators near honeybee installations carrying the disease but not near apiaries without the virus. In domestic honeybees, such viruses rank as one of the possible contributors to the still-mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder that abruptly wipes out a hive’s workforce, [study author Diana] Cox-Foster says. [Science News]

The scientists tested for five different RNA viruses, including IAPV. Their analysis turned up a couple of troubling findings. First, the virus can jump between species—they saw it move from honeybees to bumblebees, and the reverse. Second, pollen itself can harbor the virus and bring it to a new colony. “The viruses in the pollen and honey stored in the hive were demonstrated to be infective, with the queen becoming infected and laying infected eggs after these virus-contaminated foods were given to virus-free colonies,” the team writes.

Healthy foraging insects carrying virus-laden pollen are one of the pieces of evidence that Cox-Foster and her colleagues use to argue that pollen by itself can transmit viral infections. “Knowing that viruses are found in and can be transmitted from pollen is an important finding,” says Flenniken. This raises concerns about possible virus transmission through the 200 tons of honeybee-collected pollen used to feed bumblebees in bee-raising operations worldwide, Cox-Foster says. [Science News]

The researchers found 11 wild species that picked up the viruses from domesticated populations. If those bee viruses are frequently hopping over to wild pollinators, the scientists write, that could help explain their population decline.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Beepocalypse
DISCOVER: Who Killed All Those Honeybees? We Did
80beats: Honeybee Killer Still at Large
80beats: Bee Collapse May Be Caused by a Virus-Fungus One-Two Punch
80beats: Honeybee Murder Mystery: “We Found the Bullet Hole,” Not the “Smoking Gun”

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • Alyson

    Im not surprised. If we can spread diseases among our kind by using the same facilities and objects, why would it surprise us that viruses spread that way among other species? Is it the length of time the viruses live in pollen? Or did we just assume pollen was fatal to viruses somehow?

  • Larry

    This begs a question…are we also suseptable to viruses hidded in the honey we consume?

  • racheal

    would it matter if we are susceptible to the viruses possible in honey. we are not the only creatures dependent on the food bees supply with pollination. we must find an answer .we can’t live without all that pollinators supply directly or indirectly.

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