In 2006, beekeepers and scientists blew the whistle on what is now being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the annual abandoning or death of entire hives of bees. While this has been happening since the 1970s, the rate of colony collapse has increased dramatically over the past few years, with the global honeybee population at its lowest point in 50 years.
Honeybees are responsible for pollinating 30% of the crops and 90% of the wild plants worldwide. This phenomenon poses a major threat to humanity as without bees the world’s flora and food supply would be in serious jeopardy.
Although scientists have several well-documented theories explaining Colony Collapse Disorder, no theory alone is enough to adequately address the problem. Rather, it is a complex cocktail of factors working against the health of bees. Climate change, the proliferation of the Varroa mite, habitat loss, and the use of Neonicotinoid pesticides taken together largely explain the issue of CCD.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are also exploring the possibility that bee nutrition is contributing to CCD. Specifically, researchers have discovered that the expression of the bees’ genes varies widely depending on their diet.
When food sources are inadequate, beekeepers sometimes feed their bees glucose or high-fructose corn syrup instead of the honey that bees would normally consume in the wild during periods of food scarcity. The researchers studied an energy storage tissue that also functions as a liver called a fat body. According to scientists, the bees that were fed honey had a significantly different expression of gene activity in the fat body than those bees that were fed high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose.
The honey fed bees had a stronger expression of the genes associated with protein metabolism, brain signaling, and immune defense. This is an important finding as neurological disfunction and low resistance to disease are symptoms of CCD. This research also backs up a previous finding that correlates toxin breakdown in bees to a diet of honey.
Similar to humans, bees are sensitive to different types of carbohydrates; it is not just the quantity of the nutrition that matters, but the quality as well. Further experiments will be observing the effects these genetic differences have on bee health.
Hopefully, and with continued research, new findings will soon lead the way to a comprehensive solution to CCD.