Apr. 24, 2007 -Researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory have been playing an important role investigating viral disease incidence as it relates to honey bee colony deaths, specifically the increased deaths in bee colonies with unique symptoms, called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Bees play an integral role in the world food supply, and are essential for the pollination of over 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide, with the economic value of these agricultural products placed at more than $14.6 billion in the U.S. In addition to agricultural crops, honey bees also pollinate many native plants within the ecosystem. Recently, the increased deaths in bee colonies due to CCD seriously threaten the ability of the bee industry to meet the pollination needs of fruit and vegetable producers in the U.S.
The Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, a collaboration of researchers from around the country including Penn State University, the USDA, the Mailman School’s Greene Lab, and others, are working to identify potential causal factors common to CCD colonies and devise preventative measures to disrupt the disorder, with the ultimate goal to ensure strong colonies for pollination.
Dr. Diana Cox-Foster, professor of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University, testified on March 29, 2007 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture on the group’s ongoing research and highlighted the Greene Lab’s participation in the efforts.
Greene Lab scientists Ian Lipkin, MD, Thomas Briese, PhD, Gustavo Palacios, PhD, and Sean Conlan, PhD, working with the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, are using state-of-the-art technologies for pathogen surveillance and discovery to identify the cause of CCD and assist the USDA and Dr. Cox-Foster in addressing this threat to the world food supply.
Dr. Lipkin and his team at the Greene Lab and Northeast Biodefense Center are investigating whether there are new or reemerging pathogens responsible for CCD. Many pathogens have the ability to impair the immune defenses of their hosts. While none of the known pathogens in CCD bees have been identified as having immunosuppressive abilities, the team is working to identify all microbes and viruses associated with CCD colonies and anticipate isolating many new pathogens not previously associated with bees.
“We have developed tools to provide comprehensive, differential diagnosis of infectious diseases, including those caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites,” stated Dr. Lipkin, director of the Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Mailman School’s Department of Epidemiology. “These tools provide unique opportunities to rigorously address the challenges of pathogen surveillance and discovery in a situation such as this one.”
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