Archive for » June, 2009 «

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 | Author:

Kim Flottum found out for us (thaaaaaank youuu!)

A year ago USDA CSREES (Cooperative State Research Extension Education Service) awarded a $4.1 million grant to a group of university researchers for the express purpose of solving the current honey bee health problems confronting the beekeeping industry. Without actually nailing it down, this was a project to look into the current Colony Collapse Disorder malady and, over four years, find out what was going on. But at the same time the grant was to fund an extensive education program for beekeepers, and to develop as much information as possible so beekeepers could keep their bees healthy, and had a place to go for questions … and answers. Moreover, 25% of the funds were to go to study non-apis pollinators, such as bumble bees, alfalfa leaf-cutting bees and the like. To date, this is the only government money to be distributed to beekeeping researchers to study this problem other than normal budgetary funds to keep the USDA projects up and running.

So what’s happened in a year? I’m glad you asked, because I wanted to know too. So I ventured to the University of Georgia in Athens to visit with Dr. Keith Delaplane, the leader of this large and varied group studying this large and varied problem.

In this first year each of the cooperators in the program have hired the people they need to work with or brought on board the grad students who will do the work or the post-doc who will assist in the project. Probably the biggest accomplishment so far, said Dr. Delaplane, is the establishment of the seven stationary apiaries to monitor honey bee health and the environment. These apiaries, consisting of 30 colonies each, are in Maine, Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Washington and California. Each is administered by one of the researchers and will be managed using the techniques particular to their respective locations … bees in Minnesota are not managed on the same calendar or with the same methods as those bees in Texas, for instance. But each area does have best management practices that reflect these differences, and those will be followed.

However, one constant is that each colony in each of these apiaries will be sampled once a month for the duration of the study to look at what’s going on inside. Samples of bees, honey and wax will be taken, and measurements of bees and brood will all be taken routinely. The samples will go to a lab at Penn State to look for viruses and nosema disease, to the University of Minnesota to count nosema spores, and to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to look at the pollen and wax samples for residues of agricultural pesticides. At the same time, USDA scientists will be taking identical samples, and doing identical counts from a series of migratory beekeeping operations. Samples and data will be identical from each apiary and each migratory operation, and at the end the mountain of data will be easily comparable and very useful, said Delaplane.

Because this grant also covers non-apis bees (that is, bees that are not honey bees) identical samples will be taken from managed non-apis bees at each of the apiary sites. Scientists are looking for cross infections or other relationships.

Other non-apis projects include looking at increasing the efficiency and reducing the stress of managed bumblebees when used for pollination. The effects of the neonicitinoid pesticides on non-apis bees are also being studied, and especially the sub-lethal effects and any effects from residues. This should be interesting.

Meanwhile, the Extension and Education part of this has moved right along, and in July the USDA is launching its website. It is to be a one-stop shopping experience for agricultural information. The honey bee health section is housed and administered from the University of Kentucky in Lexington. All of the information that goes on this web page, the bee page included, is well-researched and well-refereed work, with oversight by a large team of honey bee scientists. There will be a Frequently Asked Questions section, an Ask The Expert question, Best Management Guides section and more. All coming from the Bee Health Community group. This effort will be federally supported, but all states will contribute with funds from their individual extension budgets. This will, over time I imagine, erode the personnel in each state’s Extension core. Unfortunate, but at least there won’t be a vacuum left behind.

Friday, June 05th, 2009 | Author:

Public release date: 4-Jun-2009

Contact: Dennis O’Brien
Public Library of Science

Bee-killing parasite genome sequenced

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have sequenced the genome of a parasite that can kill honey bees. Nosema ceranae is one of many pathogens suspected of contributing to the current bee population decline, termed colony collapse disorder (CCD). Researchers describe the parasite’s genome in a study published June 5 in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens.

In 2006, CCD began devastating commercial beekeeping operations, with some beekeepers reporting losses of up to 90 percent, according to the USDA. Researchers believe CCD may be the result of a combination of pathogens, parasites and stress factors, but the cause remains elusive. At stake are honey bees that play a valuable part in a $15 billion industry of crop farming in the United States.

The microsporidian Nosema is a fungus-related microbe that produces spores that bees consume when they forage. Infection spreads from their digestive tract to other tissues. Within weeks, colonies are either wiped out or lose much of their strength. Nosema apis was the leading cause of microsporidia infections among domestic bee colonies until recently when N. ceranae jumped from Asian honey bees to the European honey bees used commercially in the United States.

The ARS scientists used genetic tools and microscopic analysis at the ARS Bee Research Laboratory (BRL) in Beltsville, Maryland to examine N. ceranae. They collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, Columbia University, New York, New York, and 454 Life Sciences, of Branford, Connecticut.

Sequencing the genome should help scientists trace the parasite’s migration patterns, determine how it became dominant, and help resolve the spread of infection by enabling the development of diagnostic tests and treatments.


ARS is a scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: Supported by the USDA-ARS Administrator fund, (JDE, JC, JP), North America Pollinator Protection Campaign, (JE, JC), USDA-NRI grant # 2002-0256, (JE), Northeast Biodefense Center Grant # U54AI57158, (WIL), and Contract # 17-2008, (WIL). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this paper is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the United States Department of Agriculture or the Agricultural Research Service of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.

COMPETING INTERESTS: ME, SH, and BD are employed by 454 Life Sciences/Roche Applied Sciences.


CITATION: Cornman RS, Chen YP, Schatz MC, Street C, Zhao Y, et al. (2009) Genomic Analyses of the Microsporidian Nosema ceranae, an Emergent Pathogen of Honey Bees. PLoS Pathog 5(6): e1000466. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000466


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