Honey Bees

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Honey Bees

Post by Stephanie on Mon Oct 11, 2010 11:33 am

Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery

DENVER — It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees?

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.

Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

Liaisons between the military and academia are nothing new, of course. World War II, perhaps the most profound example, ended in an atomic strike on Japan in 1945 largely on the shoulders of scientist-soldiers in the Manhattan Project. And a group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana in Missoula has researched bee-related applications for the military in the past — developing, for example, a way to use honeybees in detecting land mines.

But researchers on both sides say that colony collapse may be the first time that the defense machinery of the post-Sept. 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own.

“Together we could look at things nobody else was looking at,” said Colin Henderson, an associate professor at the University of Montana’s College of Technology and a member of Dr. Bromenshenk’s “Bee Alert” team.

Human nature and bee nature were interconnected in how the puzzle pieces came together. Two brothers helped foster communication across disciplines. A chance meeting and a saved business card proved pivotal. Even learning how to mash dead bees for analysis — a skill not taught at West Point — became a factor.

One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic.

Dr. Bromenshenk’s team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal.

“It’s chicken and egg in a sense — we don’t know which came first,” Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment,” he said. “They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies.”

Research at the University of California, San Francisco, had already identified the fungus as part of the problem. And several RNA-based viruses had been detected as well. But the Army/Montana team, using a new software system developed by the military for analyzing proteins, uncovered a new DNA-based virus, and established a linkage to the fungus, called N. ceranae.

“Our mission is to have detection capability to protect the people in the field from anything biological,” said Charles H. Wick, a microbiologist at Edgewood. Bees, Dr. Wick said, proved to be a perfect opportunity to see what the Army’s analytic software tool could do. “We brought it to bear on this bee question, which is how we field-tested it,” he said.

The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain. The power of that idea in military or bee defense is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for.

But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.

Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.

The first steps were awkward, partly because the Army lab was not used to testing bees, or more specifically, to extracting bee proteins. “I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”

The process eventually was refined. A mortar and pestle worked better than the desktop, and a coffee grinder worked best of all for making good bee paste.

Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role.

They said that combination attacks in nature, like the virus and fungus involved in bee deaths, are quite common, and that one answer in protecting bee colonies might be to focus on the fungus — controllable with antifungal agents — especially when the virus is detected.

Still unsolved is what makes the bees fly off into the wild yonder at the point of death. One theory, Dr. Bromenshenk said, is that the viral-fungal combination disrupts memory or navigating skills and the bees simply get lost. Another possibility, he said, is a kind of insect insanity.

In any event, the university’s bee operation itself proved vulnerable just last year, when nearly every bee disappeared over the course of the winter.


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Re: Honey Bees

Post by Stephanie on Mon Oct 11, 2010 11:37 am

Or did they?

What a scientist didn't tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths

FORTUNE -- Few ecological disasters have been as confounding as the massive and devastating die-off of the world's honeybees. The phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) -- in which disoriented honeybees die far from their hives -- has kept scientists, beekeepers, and regulators desperately seeking the cause. After all, the honeybee, nature's ultimate utility player, pollinates a third of all the food we eat and contributes an estimated $15 billion in annual agriculture revenue to the U.S. economy.

The long list of possible suspects has included pests, viruses, fungi, and also pesticides, particularly so-called neonicotinoids, a class of neurotoxins that kills insects by attacking their nervous systems. For years, their leading manufacturer, Bayer Crop Science, a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG (BAYRY), has tangled with regulators and fended off lawsuits from angry beekeepers who allege that the pesticides have disoriented and ultimately killed their bees. The company has countered that, when used correctly, the pesticides pose little risk.

916Email Print CommentA cheer must have gone up at Bayer on Thursday when a front-page New York Times article, under the headline "Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery," described how a newly released study pinpoints a different cause for the die-off: "a fungus tag-teaming with a virus." The study, written in collaboration with Army scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center outside Baltimore, analyzed the proteins of afflicted bees using a new Army software system. The Bayer pesticides, however, go unmentioned.

What the Times article did not explore -- nor did the study disclose -- was the relationship between the study's lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.

Reporter: scientist "did not volunteer" funding sources

Bromenshenk's company, Bee Alert Technology, which is developing hand-held acoustic scanners that use sound to detect various bee ailments, will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees. Two years ago Bromenshenk acknowledged as much to me when I was reporting on the possible neonicotinoid/CCD connection for Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, which folded before I completed my reporting.

Bromenshenk defends the study and emphasized that it did not examine the impact of pesticides. "It wasn't on the table because others are funded to do that," he says, noting that no Bayer funds were used on the new study. Bromenshenk vociferously denies that receiving funding from Bayer (to study bee pollination of onions) had anything to do with his decision to withdraw from the plaintiff's side in the litigation against Bayer. "We got no money from Bayer," he says. "We did no work for Bayer; Bayer was sending us warning letters by lawyers."

A Bayer publicist reached last night said she was not authorized to comment on the topic but was trying to reach an official company spokesperson.

The Times reporter who authored the recent article, Kirk Johnson, responded in an e-mail that Dr. Bromenshenk "did not volunteer his funding sources." Johnson's e-mail notes that he found the peer-reviewed scientific paper cautious and that he "tried to convey that caution in my story." Adds Johnson: The study "doesn't say pesticides aren't a cause of the underlying vulnerability that the virus-fungus combo then exploits...."

At least one scientist questions the new study. Dr. James Frazier, professor of entomology at Penn State University, who is currently researching the sublethal impact of pesticides on bees, said that while Bromenshenk's study generated some useful data, Bromenshenk has a conflict of interest as CEO of a company developing scanners to diagnose bee diseases. "He could benefit financially from that if this thing gets popularized," Frazier says, "so it's a difficult situation to deal with." He adds that his own research has shown that pesticides affect bees "absolutely, in multiple ways."

Underlying cause of bee deaths still unclear

Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the health group at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that while the Bromenshenk/Army study is interesting, it fails to ask the underlying question "Why are colonies dying? Is it because they're getting weak? People who have HIV don't die of HIV. They die of other diseases they get because their immune systems are knocked off, making them more susceptible." In other words, pesticides could weaken the bees -- and then the virus/fungus combination finishes them off. That notion, however, is not explored in the new study.

In 2008 the NRDC sued the Environmental Protection Agency after it failed to release Bayer's underlying studies on the safety of its neonicotinoids. The federal agency has since changed course, and NRDC researchers are being allowed to sift through the Bayer studies, an NRDC spokesman says.

The EPA has based its approval of neonicotinoids on the fact that the amounts found in pollen and nectar were low enough to not be lethal to the bees -- the only metric they have to measure whether to approve a pesticide or not. But studies have shown that at low doses, the neonicotinoids have sublethal effects that impair bees' learning and memory. The USDA's chief researcher, Jeff Pettis, told me in 2008 that pesticides were definitely "on the list" as a primary stressor that could make bees more vulnerable to other factors, like pests and bacteria.

In 1999, France banned Imidacloprid after the death of a third of its honeybees. A subsequent report prepared for the French agricultural ministry found that even tiny sublethal amounts could disorient bees, diminish their foraging activities, and thus endanger the entire colony. Other countries, including Italy, have banned certain neonicotinoids.

Bayer v. beekeepers

As for the Bayer-Bromenshenk connection, in 2003 a group of 13 North Dakota beekeepers brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer, alleging that the company's neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid, which had been used in nearby fields, was responsible for the loss of more than 60% of their hives. "My bees were getting drunk," Chris Charles, a beekeeper in Carrington, N.D., and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told me in 2008. "They couldn't walk a white line anymore -- they just hung around outside the hive. They couldn't work."

Charles and the other North Dakota beekeepers hired Bromenshenk as an expert witness. Bayer did not dispute that Imidacloprid was found among the bees and their hives. The company simply argued that the amount had not been enough to kill them.

As the North Dakota lawsuit moved forward, an expert witness for the beekeepers, Dr. Daniel Mayer, a now retired bee expert from Washington State University, traveled to 17 different bee yards in North Dakota and observed dead bees and bees in the throes of what looked like Imidacloprid poisoning, he told me in 2008. He theorized that after foraging in planted fields where the seeds had been treated with Imidacloprid, the bees then brought the pesticide back to the hive, where it built up in the wax combs.

The beekeepers tried to enlist more expert witnesses, but others declined, according to two of the beekeeper plaintiffs, in large part because they had taken research money from Bayer and did not want to testify against the company. One who agreed -- Bromenshenk -- subsequently backed out and got a research grant from Bayer. Bromenshenk insists the two actions were unrelated. "It was a personal decision," he says. "I, in good conscience, couldn't charge beekeepers for services when I couldn't help them." He adds, "Eventually, the lawyers stopped calling. I didn't quit. They just stopped calling."

In June 2008 a district court judge in Pennsylvania defanged the beekeepers' lawsuit by siding with Bayer to exclude Mayer's testimony and the initial test results from a laboratory in Jacksonville, Fla., that had found significant amounts of Imidacloprid in the honeybee samples.

That same year Bromenshenk brokered a meeting between Bayer and beekeepers. When I interviewed Bromenshenk that year, he said that increasing frustration with the accusations against Bayer, which he described as a "runaway train," led him to contact the company in an effort to create a dialogue between Bayer and the beekeepers. Because of his efforts, in November 2008, Bayer scientists sat down in Lake Tahoe, Nev., with a small group of American beekeepers to establish a dialogue. The issues discussed were "trust and transparency," Bromenshenk told me. "How did Bayer do its testing, and do we trust the results?" Generally beekeepers and scientists have been highly critical of the design of Bayer's studies and deeply suspicious over who is or isn't on Bayer's payroll.

After the meeting, Bayer tentatively agreed to appoint a beekeeper advisory board to help redesign studies so that beekeepers could trust the results. But many beekeepers see the advisory board and grant money as a ruse on Bayer's part to silence its enemies by holding them close. "They have the bee industry so un-united," says Jim Doan, once New York State's busiest beekeeper until CCD decimated his business. "Even the researchers are off working on anything but the pesticide issue."

Bromenshenk's study acknowledges that the research does not "clearly define" whether the concurrent virus and fungus, which were found in all the afflicted bee samples, is "a marker, a cause, or a consequence of CCD." It also notes uncertainty as to how, exactly, the combination kills the bees, and whether other factors like weather and bee digestion play a role. Scientists like Sass at NRDC believe the mystery is far from resolved: "We're even concerned that based on this, beekeepers will use more pesticides trying to treat these viruses," says Sass.

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Re: Honey Bees

Post by SamCogar on Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:51 am

Steph, after reading both articles you should be beginning to realize just how much Junk Science Reporting is actually occurring in all disciplines of Science …. and it is being driven by the MILLION$ n’ MILLION$ in Grant monies from Government, lefty liberal organizations and corporations.

1st Article:
One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic.

Still unsolved is what makes the bees fly off into the wild yonder at the point of death. One theory, Dr. Bromenshenk said, is that the viral-fungal combination disrupts memory or navigating skills and the bees simply get lost. Another possibility, he said, is a kind of insect insanity.

In any event, the university’s bee operation itself proved vulnerable just last year, when nearly every bee disappeared over the course of the winter.

The above states the lack of dead bees makes for bee autopsies problematic yet below that fellow states he has seen great numbers of dead/dying bees.

2nd Article:
As the North Dakota lawsuit moved forward, an expert witness for the beekeepers, Dr. Daniel Mayer, a now retired bee expert from Washington State University, traveled to 17 different bee yards in North Dakota and observed dead bees and bees in the throes of what looked like Imidacloprid poisoning, he told me in 2008.

Bromenshenk's study acknowledges that the research does not "clearly define" whether the concurrent virus and fungus, which were found in all the afflicted bee samples, is "a marker, a cause, or a consequence of CCD." It also notes uncertainty as to how, exactly, the combination kills the bees, and whether other factors like weather and bee digestion play a role.

Steph, if something is killing the bees then dead ones should be found inside the hives and/or close by the hives. But there are none to be found therefore they are not just "up n' dying".

Now I agree that something is affecting their "navigating skills and the bees simply get lost" and can't navigate their way back to the hive.

And a bee's compass is a frequency of the polarized Sunlight, which frequency I do not know. But anyway, the bees use that polarized Sunlight frequency and its angle to the earth's surface like a GPS signal for navigating their way back to the hive.

So the questions are:

Are the bees going per say "insane" and unable to calculate their trajectory?
Are the bee's vision going bad?
Has there been a shift or distortion in the Sunlight frequency used by the bees?


To better solve this problem they need a 10 or 20 acre Greenhouse so that they can keep track of those bees that "don't make it back to the hive".

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