Thursday, October 7, 2010

When A Virus AND A Fungus Attack

Source: Wikimedia Commons
I haven't blogged about any actual science in awhile, so I give you the curious case of the dying honeybee. Since 2006, scientists have been trying to figure out what could be causing "colony collapse" where whole hives of honeybees die off. In the last four years, approximately 20-40% of the hives in the United States have died (that is a remarkably large amount).

Researchers have been struggling to figure out exactly what is killing the honeybees, an essential part of many ecosystems due to their role as pollinators. It took four years, but a joint team from the United States Army and the University of Montana are reporting that the culprit in the honeybee killing spree is an co-attack by a virus and a fungus. The researchers believe that the virus and the fungus may be interacting to disturb the absorption of nutrients, although the exact ways in which the bee's internal systems are thrown off is not yet known.

This is interesting for two reasons:
1. A virus and a fungus interacting to kill a species is rare
2. The United States Army teaming up with Academia isn't rare itself, but most partnerships occur to speed things up or keep costs down. This partnership was to really figure out what was causing the bees to die which is unusual.

New York Times coverage of the bees: Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery.

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