New Israeli-US Efforts for Bees

Field testing continues on remedy to virus associated with Colony Collapse Disorder, which affects honey production and pollination of crops.

Ernie Singer,

The United States Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to carry out full-scale trials in several locations, starting next month, on an agent developed by an Israeli-US company to help beekeepers fight a virus strongly associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), according to . CCD is characterized by the mysterious and inexplicable loss of adult worker bees in managed honeybee colonies. It was first noticed as a problem in the winter of 2006/7, when beekeepers began reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The problem got worse during the winter of 2007/8, not only in America, but in Europe as well.

As a result of a 30 percent drop in the local bee population, honey production in Great Britain declined 50 percent, with similar declines reported in Argentina and Australia, two of the world's leading honey producers. This has led to a 60 percent increase in the price of honey in Europe. Israel has seen a five percent rise, accompanying a 60 percent drop in production, attributed in part to poor rainfall.

Also affected is the pollination of crops. In the US, that means 130 varieties with a value of $15 billion a year. Because some of the crops are used as livestock feed, one third of all food production is affected.

Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), so called because it was identified by Hebrew University of Jerusalem plant virologist Prof. Ilan Sela in 2004, causes honeybees to suffer from shivering wings, followed by paralysis and death outside the hive. In 2007, the journal Science published research by a prestigious team of US scientists and researchers that found a significant connection between IAPV and CCD in honeybees.

Nitzan Paldi, chief technology officer of Beeologics, the company that has developed the anti-viral agent, explains, "If you look how the disease spreads, it's very reminiscent of flu. Flu also starts in the fall and hits hard in the winter, the same is true of this bee virus," explains Paldi. "It's very contagious like a flu. In our opinion, we have something that's interacting very strongly with the environment to cause CCD.”

Beeologics's solution, Remebee, utilizes a mechanism called RNA interference (RNAi, also known as gene silencing) a mechanism that inhibits or hinders gene expression. Initial trials on 100 hives were conducted in Florida from March to June. The trials demonstrated that feeding IAPV specific RNA prior to virus inoculation dramatically improved bee-to-brood ratio and honey yield compared with bees inoculated with IAPV only.The October to February testing season is critical, CEO Eyal Ben-Chanoch of Beeologics explained, because the bee keeping industry cycle follows the seasons of the bees which strengthen in spring and summer and naturally weaken during fall and winter.

While its primary focus is Remebee and solving the current CCD crisis, Beeologics's wider focus is developing a full line of products for bee health, starting with RemebeePro, a multi-viral agent; and RemebeePlus, a feeding supplement based on natural ingredients.

Facts about Honey in Israel

Israel has 90 thousand beehives, as compared to 2.4 million in the US.

The nearly 3,000-year-old large-scale beekeeping operation uncovered by Israeli archaeologists between 2005 and 2007 at Tel Rehov, in the Jordan Valley, represents the oldest known remnants of human-made beehives in the Near East. It has been compared with a 4,500 year-old carving found in an Egyptian temple.

Forty percent of the 3,600 tons of honey consumed in Israel every year is consumed during the week of Rosh HaShanah, which starts Monday night.