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A 10-month study of healthy honey bees by University of California, San Francisco scientists has identified four new viruses that infect bees, while revealing that each of the viruses or bacteria previously linked to colony collapse is present in healthy hives as well.
"We brought a quantitative view of what real migrating populations look like in terms of disease," DeRisi said. "You can't begin to understand colony die-off without understanding what normal is."
Because the colonies in this study remained healthy despite these pathogens, the research supports the theory that colony collapse may be caused by factors working alone or in combination, said Michelle Flenniken, PhD, who jointly led the research.
"Clearly, there is more than just exposure involved," said Flenniken, a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of UCSF microbiologist Raul Andino, PhD. "We noticed that specific viruses dominated in some seasons, but also found that not all of the colonies tested positively for a virus at the same time, even after long-distance transport in close proximity."
Researchers nationwide have identified various possible causes of that collapse, mainly based on pathogens found in the affected hives. While this study did not identify the cause of colony collapse, it did offer a measurement of the normal levels of pathogens.
In addition to viruses, the research revealed six species each of bacteria and fungi, four types of mites and a parasitic fly called a phorid, which had not been seen in honey bees outside California. One of the new viruses, a strain of the Lake Sinai virus, turned out to be the primary element of the honey bee biome, or community of bacteria and viruses.
The research was primarily funded by Project Apis m., which includes members of the American Honey Producers Association, the American Beekeeping Federation, the National Honey Board, California State Beekeepers Association and California almond farmers. DeRisi is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Flenniken's research was supported by the Häagen Dazs post-doctoral fellowship in honey bee biology, through University of California, Davis.