CATCH THE BUZZ
BEE RESEARCHERS UNVEIL TOOL TO
CHASE COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER
University of Montana researchers and their UM-affiliated company, Bee
Alert Technology Inc., have employed a powerful new tool created by a U.S.
Army lab to discover a honeybee virus invading North America.
The new virus does not cause Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious
malady depopulating beehives around the globe, but the method used
to find the virus may help scientists unravel the CCD mystery in the
The invading bee virus is called Varroa destructor virus-1. First
definitively identified in Europe in 2006, VDV-1 is carried by both
honeybees and the tiny varroa mites that afflict them.
The invading virus was discovered in two honey bee samples collected by UM
scientists in the southeastern United States. Jerry Bromenshenk, a UM
biology research professor, said he and his colleagues gathered the
incriminating samples as part of a larger sampling effort in bee yards
affected by CCD across the nation.
Bee Alert had the samples analyzed at the Edgewood Chemical Biological
Center, a U.S. Army-backed laboratory based at the Aberdeen Proving
Grounds in Maryland. Edgewood has developed a liquid-chromatograph
proteomics mass-spectrometry device, which can identify all the peptides
(short lengths of proteins) in a given sample.
Every virus, every fungus, every bacteria has its own group of
peptides that are unique to it Bromenshenk said. 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.
The Edgewood analysis didn't provide a smoking gun for what causes
CCD, but it did reveal that a European bee virus had jumped the
pond, Bromenshenk said.
What's significant about this is typically we don't
know about new pathogens arriving on U.S. soil until there is some sort of
outbreak and significant loss of colonies going around, said Colin
Henderson, a Bee Alert employee and UM College of Technology faculty
He said an exciting aspect of Edgewoods new technology is that it
reveals everything contained in a sample. Using typical genetics-based
methods like the polymerase chain reaction laboratory method the
same type used in the O.J. Simpson case scientists have to
specifically target genes and match those with the sequences they are
searching for. This is extremely expensive and time consuming. The
Edgewood method identifies all the peptides, and these then are
cross-referenced with an index of millions of peptides stored at the
National Center for Biotechnology Information and other databases.
The UM samples provided as many as 15,000 lines of information, Henderson
said. And once the data is stored, unknown sequences may be
discovered, and you can re-screen the file without rerunning the sample.
It makes this a very powerful tool.
This became a perfect marriage of a technology looking for a
real-world application, Bromenshenk said. Edgewood had a
tool that provided a solution to problems, and we had a problem but no
So what does it mean for bees that VDV-1 is loose in the New World? Well,
nobody really knows. Bromenshenk said the virus reproduces itself in both
honeybees and varroa mites. It's also closely related to a family of
bee viruses that cause deformed wings, aggressive behavior, and death of
But we haven't seen it express itself among honeybees
yet, Bromenshenk said.
Henderson said the Edgewood process gave them a rare early detection of a
new virus. It will be an excellent model for epidemiology,
he said. 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.
UM researchers got state Board of Regents approval in 2003 to form Bee
Alert Technology Inc., a company designed to transfer technology from the
University to real-world agricultural and military applications. The
company employees workers from both the central UM campus and the College
I think this shows the strength of the merger between our two- and
four-year systems, Henderson said. There is a lot of synergy
within the University system.
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