Colonies of honeybees (an invasive exotic species) have been dying off in the last year. Some ideological environmentalists--the Sierra Club--attempted to blame biotech crops as the cause. However, as I pointed out, even the research the Sierra Club cited indicated that biotech crops were unlikely to be the cause for colony collapse disorder.

Today, Science is publishing a fascinating metagenomic study which strongly suggests that a new viral infection is killing off bees, specifically, Israeli acute paralysis virus. The researchers ground up bees and then screened all the DNA they found, including DNA from any disease organisms that might be infecting bees.  Nature reports:

As the team reports in today's Science, they found that genes of the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) matched extremely well with hives with the disorder. "If you identify IAPV in a colony, the probability is over 96% that this is going to come from a CCD hive," says lead author Ian Lipkin of Columbia University in New York. The virus was found in only a single sample that was not identified as having CCD.

The researchers stress that this doesn't prove that IAPV is causing CCD; it is possible that the virus is infecting bees while they are in a vulnerable state. But they have found a good suspect, the researchers say. "The real test will be introducing the virus to healthy bees," says Lipkin.

"I think that multiple factors are involved in CCD," adds co-author Jeffery Pettis of the USDA Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. The bees from collapsing colonies were generally in much worse shape than the healthy controls, he notes. The disorder could represent the cumulative effect of the virus, parasitic mites, and external stressors, including pesticides on crops and the bumpy rides the bees take on trucks between pollination gigs.

Whole Nature article here.