Team Aims for Healthy Honeybees

Purdue study takes close look at colony collapse disorder in hopes of solving mysterious syndrome affecting honeybees.

| August 29, 2008

West Lafayette, Indiana – A combination of pathogens, pesticides and parasites may underlie such a massive disappearance of honeybees that agricultural production may be threatened, says a Purdue University researcher.

Greg Hunt, a Purdue apicultural researcher and geneticist, is collaborating with 19 scientists from around the country to launch an in-depth study of bees' behavior, lives, illnesses and deaths to define the syndrome known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The investigators' goal is to find ways to restore bee colonies and keep them safe.

Hunt and his team are using genomics to investigate honeybee diseases and to identify genes that make the insects resistant to a particularly harmful parasite and to pathogens. Other project collaborators will do genetic testing and observe bees in laboratories and in colonies as they try to discover what's causing losses of whole colonies.

"This project is about honeybee health because it is likely more than one factor is involved in CCD," Hunt said. "It's a mystery whether colony collapse is truly something new or whether it's a combination of factors."

Colony collapse disorder is not a disease, it's a syndrome, he said. A disease is caused by a known pathogen while a syndrome is a set of symptoms. At least 24 states, Canada and most European countries have reported cases of CCD; Indiana is not among them.

"There could be a lot of things that make bees forget where they live and not return to the hive," Hunt said. "They could have any number of diseases that might potentially cause these types of symptoms. But in the experience of researchers and beekeepers looking at colony collapse disorder, it seems to be something new."

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