An international team of researchers has identified 27 types of viruses, hitherto unknown, that infect bees (the results of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports, belonging to Nature group). This discovery, technicians say, will allow bettering understanding reasons causing a worrying death of bees all over the world: the main responsibility is attributed to new types of pesticides and insecticides used in the last ten years, but also certain viral infections can play a negative role. So far, however, this area was very little studied.
To identify bee viruses, researchers, coordinated by a team from Pennsylvania State University (US), collected samples of genetic material (DNA and RNA) of 12 bee species in 9 world countries, and analyzed them with a new technique that made possible to speed up operations a lot, discovering 27 new types of viruses, as well as many others already known (viruses, by their nature, literally enter the genetic code and duplicate with the cell, altering it, though).
Much is the obtained information: for instance, some of the new viruses have appeared very similar to already known plant viruses, suggesting that bees can introduce them into their organism through pollen or in any case interacting with plants. It is not clear, however, the bees’ role in this case: they are virus victims, or instead do not suffer consequences and act as unaware vehicles, transporting these infectious agents to other plants, through pollination, and thus promoting the “contagion” of entire crops?
In addition to plant interactions, researchers also found that there is an “exchange” of viruses between different species of bees. Attention is focused, as expected, on viruses that are “passed” to the most efficient species in pollination (and closer, therefore, to human activities). Also in this case, it will be necessary to understand what types of viruses, among those diffused from one species to another, are responsible for dangerous diseases for these insects, and which, instead, have established a kind of peaceful coexistence, still to be deciphered. New studies will try to elucidate.
Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by corriere.it on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.