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Metagenomics on the Case

By Kevin Davies

Oct. 10, 2007 | In important research published in Science, 454 Life Sciences (Roche) says its technology has provided a critical clue into the perplexing mystery of the decimated bee populations in North America. The so-called colony collapse disorder (CCD) has mystified biologists for over a year, with an estimated 10 billion bees (2.4 million hives) lost. First recognized last year in the Unites States, similar outbreaks have since been reported across continental Europe.

454 and scientists at Columbia University led by Diana Cox-Foster and Ian Lipkin undertook a “metagenomic” approach to identify possible culprits. The results revealed traces of several foreign viruses, fungi, and bacteria associated with the honeybee affected populations. However, one sequence appears particularly significant: that of the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), which was only detected in the collapsed colonies.

The authors of the study stress that this does not prove a causal relationship between IAPV and CCD. “Nonetheless, the prevalence of IAPV sequences in CCD operations, as well as the temporal and geographic overlap of CCD and importation of IAPV infected bees, indicate that IAPV is a significant marker for CCD,” the authors conclude.

Adds Lipkin: “We view this work as a model for investigating epidemics of unexplained infectious disease.” 

Further Reading: Cox-Foster, DL et al. “A metagenomic survey of microbes in honey bee colony collapse disorder,” Science, September 7, 2007.

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