A rapidly mutating virus has leaped from plants to honeybees, where it is reproducing and contributing to the collapse of colonies vital to the multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, according to a new study.
Reporter Geoffrey Mohan of the Los Angeles Times reports that “tobacco ringspot virus, a pollen-borne pathogen that causes blight in soy crops, was found during routine screening of commercial honeybees at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory, where further study revealed the RNA virus was replicating inside its Apis mellifera hosts and spreading to mites that travel from bee to bee, according to the study published online Tuesday in the journal mBio.”
The discovery is the first report of honeybees becoming infected by a pollen-born RNA virus that spread systematically through the bees and hives. Traces of the virus were detected in every part of the bee examined, except its eyes, according to the study.
The widespread use of neonicotinoid seed treatments has been blamed for the death of a high percentage of honeybees in corn-producing areas of Ontario and across the United States.
The California discovery underlines the point that many farmers have been making that neonicotinoid seed treatments are far from the sole factor in the death of honeybees.