Bee Alert: new threat to US honeybees identified

By Dr Matt Wilkinson

- Last updated on GMT

US scientists have discovered a new threat to the US honeybee population using technology developed for detecting viruses on the battlefield.

The collaborative team of researchers from Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), University of Montana, BVS Inc. and Bee Alert Technologies, discovered that the Varroa Destructor Virus (VDV-1) has infected at least two Honey Bee colonies in the south-eastern US as part of a larger sampling effort investigating colony collapse disorder (CCD).

The research is yet to be published in a peer review journal; however the scientists wanted to give beekeepers the information as soon as possible so they would have the opportunity to quarantine affected colonies and implement early disease control measures.

VDV-1 is an RNA virus carried by both honeybees and the tiny varroa mites that infect them and is related to a family of paralytic viruses that causes some membranes to breakdown. It was first definitively identified in Europe in 2006 and this is the first time it has been identified in the US.

The virus does not cause CCD, but the method used may help to unravel the CCD mystery.

The researchers discovered the virus using an Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS) and a proteomics LC/MS (liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry system.

IVDS was developed at the ECBC and counts and sizes the various virus particles in a sample and them while the LC/MS identifies the peptides from the various size fractions.

“This became a perfect marriage of a technology looking for a real-world application,” ​said Professor Jerry Bromenshenk, of the University of Montana and CEO of Bee Alert.

“Edgewood had a tool that provided a solution to problems and we had a problem but no tool.”

Unlike genetics-based methods such as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) the technique is hypothesis neutral, with researchers able to see exactly what is in a sample rather than having to prepare markers that would identify the presence of a particular sequence.

“Every virus, every fungus, every bacteria has its own group of peptides that are unique to it,”​ said Prof. Bromenshenk.

“We provided bee samples from a wide area and a number of colonies, and they very quickly produced a fingerprint of every pathogen that the bees are carrying.”

While the analysis did not find the root cause of CCD, research conducted by Virus Detection Systems, who are commercialising IVDS have found a link between CCD and the presence of viruses measuring 31nm and 38nm. The new combined technique may help identify those viruses prevalent in dwindling colonies suffering from CCD.

However, the technique did reveal that a European bee virus had “jumped the pond” ​and had given them a rare opportunity to detect a virus early in its introduction to a population.

“It will be an excellent model for epidemiology​,” said Colin Henderson of Bee Alert.

“Bees move with people, and you get the same quasi-social interactions. We will be able to study how rapidly the pathogen gets from one place to another, spreads and moves around. It’s amazing that we are getting to it while it’s still localized.”

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