In some circles this is breaking news –– Israeli-US scientists say they have found a cure for honeybee collapse disorder (Colony Collapse Disorder –– CCD), a condition which TreeHugger has been following extensively over the last couple of years. While different theories abound as to why honeybee populations have collapsed, the scientists from Beeologics are wasting no time in finding a solution.
Some predict that humans won’t last 5 years on earth without honeybees, so just in time for the Jewish New Year, where honey is a big part of the menu, this news is warmly welcomed.
According to ISRAEL21c, last winter, over 36 percent of US bee colonies collapsed, affecting honey production, but more significantly, the collapsed affected one-third of all food production that requires pollination - from fruits and nuts, to the dairy and beef cows that feed on alfalfa.
The company Beeologics is now taking rapid measures to bring to market a proprietary anti-viral agent that promises to alleviate the effects of the virus strongly associated with Colony Collapse Disorder with full-scale FDA trials commencing next month. How in the world will it save our bees?
Silencing Viral Genes
Beeologics' solution, Remebee, utilizes a mechanism called RNA interference (RNAi, also known as gene silencing) a mechanism that inhibits or hinders gene expression. "The technology is based on naturally occurring biological agents. Conceptually, we're introducing the factor that prompts the silencing response," Nitzan Paldi, the CTO at Beeologics.
"We didn't invent gene silencing. However, as far as we know we are among the first to use it commercially on non-humans," he tells ISRAEL21c, who gives TreeHugger permission to reprint parts of their article:
The team have 60,000 hives committed to trials, and are looking for about 40,000 more to participate, from the months of October to February –– so if you have any beekeeping friends, please pass them this story. The time is now.
This is the season for saving
The season is critical, says Eyal Ben-Chanoch, CEO of Beeologics because the bee keeping industry cycle follows the seasons of the bees which strengthen in spring, and summer and naturally weaken during fall and winter.
Colony Collapse Disorder was first noticed as a problem in the winter of 2006/7, when beekeepers began reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Since then, the crisis has grown. There is much at stake. "Today it's not about honey but about pollination," says Ben-Chanoch. Pollination using managed honeybees is a critical element in modern agriculture; more than 130 crops in the US require pollination, with an annual crop value of $15 billion.
“So far, there is no solution because no one has even come to an agreement as to what the problem is," adds Paldi.
One virus strongly associated with CCD, however, is Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV). Identified by Hebrew University of Jerusalem plant virologist Prof. Ilan Sela in 2004, the virus causes honeybees to suffer from shivering wings, followed by paralysis and death outside the hive.
At Beeologics, scientists are convinced that IAPV is the primary cause of CCD. "If you look how the disease spreads, it's very reminiscent of flu. Flu also starts in the fall and hits hard in the winter, the same is true of this bee virus," explains Paldi.
"It's very contagious like a flu. In our opinion, we have something that's interacting very strongly with the environment to cause CCD. It could be interacting with pesticides, with improper nutrition, general stress - but that's not what's killing the bees. What's killing them is a virus and we believe that virus is IAPV."
Successful FDA-supervised trials
So far successful trials on 100 hives in Florida from March to June demonstrated that feeding IAPV specific RNA prior to virus inoculation dramatically improved bee-to-brood ratio and honey yield compared with bees inoculated with IAPV only.
Beeologics has now applied for FDA approval for Remebee and has partnered with all major US and international institutions working on the CCD problem, including leading US beekeepers Dave Mendez and Dave Hackenberg, the man who alerted the media to CCD after losing 90% of his bees in 2006.
"Hackenberg provided us the hives and the bees for the trials in Pennsylvania as did Mendez in Florida," says Ben-Chanoch. "It was a great sacrifice because these beekeepers were already hurting -- these hive were planned for revenue generation and the replacement cost for this size of fully populated hive is substantial."
Thanks to ISRAEL21c, for the story.
More on bees and Colony Collapse Disorder on TreeHugger
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Honey Bee Mystery Solved?
Colony Collapse Disorder Arrives in the UK
Where Did the Bees Go?
Bayer in the Dock Over Pesticide Linked to Colony Collapse
Saving the Bees
Sweet News: Organic Bees Are Thriving