Hive remedy has beekeepers abuzz

Hive remedy has beekeepers abuzz

Beekeepers are being offered hope for their ailing honeybee hives in the form of an advanced new product released this month by a South Florida-based biotechnology company.

The technology could have wider implications for all of agriculture as a nonchemical way to combat pests and disease.

Beekeepers have been losing about a third of their hives each year since 2006, when Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg first reported a phenomenon that came to be called colony collapse disorder. CCD is not a disease, but is a syndrome characterized by the inexplicable loss of worker bees in managed honeybee colonies.

Although it is not a “cure” for CCD, Remebee, a product developed by Miami-based Beeologics, has been shown in scientific trials to protect bees from a virulent virus called Israeli acute paralysis virus, or IAPV, Beeologic CEO Eyal Ben-Chanoch said.

Bees that resist the virus have a better chance of surviving other pathogens, scientists say.

In 2006, Craig Mello and Andrew Fire received the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries related to ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi), the technology used in Remedee. Remebee interferes with the messenger RNA and affects specific genes in the virus, making it impossible for the virus to become a disease.

“We had millions of bees who were treated in these trials in Florida and in Pennsylvania. The results are pretty amazing,” Ben-Chanoch said.

“What we have seen is that the bees that were fed with Remebee, then were challenged with the virus, resist the virus and survive and flourish and produce more honey,” Ben-Chanoch said.

The technology has huge implications as a way to control other agricultural pests and diseases, even as a way to control mosquitoes, said Dave Mendes, president of the American Beekeeping Federation and a North Fort Myers-based beekeeper.

Scientists are working on a solution to use the technology to combat citrus psyllids, small insects that spread killing greening disease to citrus trees, Mendes said. Citrus growers currently are spraying insecticides to control psyllids.

“This technology is safe and it is environmentally sound,” said Mendes, who also serves on Beeologics’ board.

Ben-Chanoch said the company received preliminary Food and Drug Administration approval to distribute Remebee to beekeepers Dec. 1. Since then, 25,000 doses or “meals” of the product made at Beeologics’ plant in Israel have been shipped to more than 30 U.S. beekeepers. A hive needs one dose per month of Remebee, expected to be sold for $2 a dose.

The company, funded by private investors, spent roughly $3.5 million and more than three years developing the product, Ben-Chanoch said.

Jerry Hayes, chief of the apiary section at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville, who serves on Beeologics’ board along with other leading bee researchers, said that while the product’s impact probably won’t be tremendous, the technology is important.

“It is a tremendous breakthrough on a technology basis. I don’t know that anyone is convinced that IAPV by itself kills honeybee colonies,” Hayes said.

“Certainly a virus in concert with varroa mites and bad nutrition and pesticides and anything else that weakens the immune system, yes, it does that,” Hayes said.

“This is a part of a piece of the puzzle. It is a window into the future,” he added. ” It has potential, but it is only the very beginning.”

Wayne Hunter, a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist based in Fort Pierce, sees promise.

“It is the biggest breakthrough in three years,” Hunter said. “You have more bees survive through the winter and they produce more honey.”

In its annual progress report on CCD released last week summarizing three years of research, the USDA continues to confirm that no single factor is responsible for CCD.

Taken together, recent studies support the hypothesis that CCD is a syndrome of stress, most likely caused by a combination of factors such as pests, pesticides and viruses, the report stated.

Ben-Chanoch said his company’s strategy was to find a way to help the bees with one of the most prevalent factors in bee health.

“We do not get into the debate about what causes CCD, because it is useless. It doesn’t help the bees,” Ben-Chanoch said. “If we get rid of IAPV, then it will dramatically help the bees.”

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