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New Virus could be Killing the Bees

Update Date: Jan 21, 2014 03:42 PM EST

Researchers have identified a new virus that could be responsible for bee colony collapse disorder. According to the scientists at an United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory, a mutating virus called tobacco ringspot virus, has transferred from plants to bees and could be causing bee colonies to collapse.

"They have a high mutation rate," said Yan Ping Chen, a bee pathologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Maryland and lead author of the study reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Because of their genetic diversity, we see a lot of host jumping."

Tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV) is a pathogen that travels via pollen. In a new study, USDA scientists examined the virus and found that it had duplicated in Apis melligera hosts and spread to mites. The mites then transferred the virus to bees. The scientists reported that there were traces of the RNA virus in almost every part of the bees with the exception of the eyes.

"I want to be cautious," Chen said. "The cause of colony collapse disorder remains unclear. But we do have evidence that TRSV along with other viruses that we screen on a regular basis are associated with lower rates of over-winter survival."

The cultivated bee industry is vital for the growth of crops. Roughly 90 crops throughout the world depend on these bees, which bring in roughly $14 billion per year. If the virus continues to wreak havoc on the bees, costs could skyrocket significantly.

The study was published in mbio.

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