Since 2006, honey bees around the world have been dying in large numbers. Scientists have been hard at work ever since trying to find out why these hard-working, much-needed insects are disappearing.

Researchers from the University of Montana and the US Army are a step closer to solving the case of colony collapse disorder, or CCD. Publishing in the open access journal PLoS One yesterday, they have determined that the bees are being assaulted by not just one factor, but two.

From the New York Times:

The virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal…

…both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

Now the scientists are racing to determine which attacks the bees first—kind of a chicken and egg scenario between the virus and fungus that are doing the damage.

Sadly, the research is hampered by the fact that the bees fly off and leave the hive to die, scattering the evidence. The scientists are still unsure what causes this action.

The next step for the team is to try and protect the bees. The 80beats blog in Discover describes the work ahead for the University of Montana team:

In the case of Bromenshenk’s team, the scientists’ follow-up task to this week’s study is to isolate the IIV [virus] they found and try to use it in inoculation experiments, hoping that could reveal whether the virus is a key player in causing CCD or just an invader after the fact.

Another article in the New York Times offers why this protection is so important:

Given the source of food they provide, not to mention the honey-based medicines used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, among others, bees have saved us — or at least soothed us — as a species over the centuries. Returning the favor only seems fair.

Creative Commons image by Cody Hough

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