Pollen-Borne Virus Resembling HIV Affecting Already Hurting Honey Bee Populations And The $14 Million Industry They Represent

January 22, 2014

From: University Herald

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

Could scientists one day be tasked to create robotic bees or devise some other solution to pollinate plants (a $14 billion industry)? The situation isn’t that desperate yet, but a virus born from pollen, spread to plants, and now found in bees is one big factor decimating honey bee colonies, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Tobacco ringspot virus is the first virus on record to jump from pollen to bees and systematically affect their entire population and hives, according to a recent study examining the decline of honey bee populations. Researchers also pointed to pesticides and “beekeeping practices that stress the insect’s immune system,” such as feeding them high-fructose corn syrup rather than having them rely on their own honey supply, according to the LA Times.

Complicating the situation is the nature of the virus, which operates on the same basic principles as the HIV virus: as it replicates it also mutates enough to thwart the immune’s system’s defense.

“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. “Because of their genetic diversity, we see a lot of host jumping.”

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