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The Bee Problem

by das monde Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:55:28 AM EST

This news broke, up to some prominence, a few weeks ago. It was discussed briefly here at ET as well. This time I quote "Der Spiegel":

A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous. [...]

Felix Kriechbaum, an official with a regional beekeepers' association in Bavaria, recently reported a decline of almost 12 percent in local bee populations. When "bee populations disappear without a trace," says Kriechbaum, it is difficult to investigate the causes, because "most bees don't die in the beehive." There are many diseases that can cause bees to lose their sense of orientation so they can no longer find their way back to their hives.

Manfred Hederer, the president of the German Beekeepers Association, almost simultaneously reported a 25 percent drop in bee populations throughout Germany. In isolated cases, says Hederer, declines of up to 80 percent have been reported. He speculates that "a particular toxin, some agent with which we are not familiar," is killing the bees.

[Since] last November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. Beekeepers on the east coast of the United States complain that they have lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.

From the diaries - whataboutbob


The phenomenon is called "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD). Several universities and government agencies formed a "CCD Working Group" to investigate the calamity.

Details are appaling:

One thing is certain: Millions of bees have simply vanished. In most cases, all that's left in the hives are the doomed offspring. But dead bees are nowhere to be found - neither in nor anywhere close to the hives. [It] is particularly worrisome [that] the bees' death is accompanied by a set of symptoms "which does not seem to match anything in the literature."

In many cases, scientists have found evidence of almost all known bee viruses in the few surviving bees found in the hives after most have disappeared. Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi -- a sign, experts say, that the insects' immune system may have collapsed.

The scientists are also surprised that bees and other insects usually leave the abandoned hives untouched. Nearby bee populations or parasites would normally raid the honey and pollen stores of colonies that have died for other reasons, such as excessive winter cold. "This suggests that there is something toxic in the colony itself which is repelling them"...

The main report of "Der Spiegel"s article is a study linking the dissapearing bees to pesticides built in genetically modified crops.

The study in question is a small research project conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004. The researchers examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant called "Bt corn" on bees. A gene from a soil bacterium had been inserted into the corn that enabled the plant to produce an agent that is toxic to insect pests. The study concluded that there was no evidence of a "toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations." But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a "significantly stronger decline in the number of bees" occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed.

According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry -- or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."

Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy six-week period.

And here come a few killer lines:

Kaatz would have preferred to continue studying the phenomenon but lacked the necessary funding. "Those who have the money are not interested in this sort of research," says the professor, "and those who are interested don't have the money."

Plus, a quote of Albert Einstein:
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

I am just a messenger... I am not saying that we have nothing to do but cry in despair, or "bent over and kiss your a** goodbye". Catastrophic consequences are far from certain. But hell, we need to find out more about the dying bees and global warming... It is damn stupid if the money is only in the hands of those who are committed to ignorance rather than to knowledge.

Display:
At one time I kept 30 hives...in Hawaii on our coffee farm...and I loved working with them (except the occasional sting. They are amazing creatures. So...this news is indded alarming and worrisome. Thanks for the post!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 04:36:57 AM EST
Bees are mysterious creatures...

Wikipedia says there are CCD observations in Poland and Spain. Europe is much smaller than the US. Before you know it, you will miss something.

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 04:43:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I had a friend whose father kept bees. Which was interesting, given that the father was allergic to bees and would have 15 minutes left to live if he was stung and didn't get any treatment.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 04:57:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Humans are mysterious creatures ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 05:01:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bees means friends

[During] a recent visit by Ukraine's President Yushchenko to Lithuania, he was gifted a set of beekeeping implements by President Adamkus of Lithuania. It turns out that Yushchenko is a keen beekeeper in his private life. President Yushchenko has now in turn gifted President Adamkus three beehives with bees, as thanks for Adamkus' help in helping solve last year's Ukrainian crisis.

This was a highly symbolic act, as in ancient times in Lithuania people who exchanged bees became lifelong friends, with ties as strong as between blood relatives. Bees could not be bought or sold, only exchanged. There was a whole lore of beekeeping practised in ancient times, unique in Europe to Lithuania and related Baltic nations. In fact the Lithuanian name for a special friend, "bičiulis", is derived from the word "bitė" (a "bee").

Here are a few of those Lithuanian beehives, with an independent expalnation:

As we strolled back toward the cottage, the guide further explained to me that the Lithuanian beekeepers centuries ago were members of a kind of brotherhood. Evidence of this is a curious word in everyday use by Lithuanians that links the Lithuanian culture and language with bees and beekeeping. This is the word biciulis, pronounced bitch -ull -iss, with the ull as in "pull". Derived from the two-syllable Lithuanian word for bee, bite (bit-eh), it was originally used among beekeepers. A beekeeper was a bicius (bitch-uss with the uss as in puss). Biciulis is a diminutive and it literally means " dear fellow beekeeper". Beekeepers kept bees as common property and had close relationships among themselves that were almost as close as blood relationships. It is said that there was a strong moral code among them. As in other cultures, the Lithuanians saw the bee as a fiercely moral creature. She stung dishonest people, for example. This carried over to human life. Someone who was adept enough and morally good enough to handle bees, as you were, clearly would make a trustworthy friend. It is said that bees were never bought and sold among biciuliai. Nowadays, Lithuanians commonly use the delightful word biciulis simply to mean "friend" or "pal".

We may also remember the mead drink, the ancient European (and not only) honey wine or beer.

by das monde on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 10:37:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's such a bizarre story. Completely vanished. So long and thanks for all the pollen?
If they're on to something with the pesticide-producing crop being hazardous to bees with parasites, it would be a prime example of the law of unintended consequences...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 04:54:43 AM EST
So long and thanks for all the pollen?
Ha! Exactly what I was just going to write.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 05:52:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the law of unintended consequences

Oh, come on!

BBC News: Scientists discuss GM threat to butterflies (8 November, 1999)

There has been particular concern about the fate of the familiar insect after Cornell University, US, researchers showed how pollen from corn modified to produce its own insecticide could kill monarch larvae if it landed on milkweed plants, the exclusive food of monarch caterpillars.

Since the Cornell study was published in the science journal Nature last May, environmental lobby groups opposed to GM crops have used the monarch butterfly as a focus for their attacks on the biotech industry.

But at a symposium in Chicago which brought together many scientists working in this area, there appeared to be conflicting evidence as to the true state of play.

The meeting was organised by a consortium of biotechnology and pesticide companies in the US, the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Working Group. It had commissioned a number of studies in response to the Cornell work, some of which reported preliminary findings at the symposium.

This was eight fucking years ago and the industry not only "commissioned" research [link to our previous discussion on the risks of researchers accepting non-charity money from industry] but was allowed to go ahead and release the crops in the wild, massively.

Unintended consequences my ass.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 05:56:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The particular issue has diminished  criticality as for now. That is what they will always say: see, that alarm was false again. So we will keep on gambling.

But strange things are happening already, obviously.

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:19:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't say the agents have to care said consequence occurred.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:23:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sick bees tend to avoid leaving their corpses in the hive, for obvious reasons. Whether this explains much in this instance, I don't know.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:08:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If this really is due to pollen from GM crops, 1) how does one prove the connection; 2) how does one get the GM industry and the governments to acknowledge it?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 05:09:16 AM EST
With the lawer-friendly culture of today, we have to be extremely lucky to come up with a proof fast. On the other hand, the industry can be stopped quickly only with a tight lawsuit.

But then again, the causual web could be very complex. Say, global warming may disrupt seasonal rhythm of bees, or enhance parasyte populations. Even if GM would not be the dominant reason most likely, the thinking has to be changed from "Is it disastrous or not?" to "What is the spectrum of possibilities?".

CCD can be a prime wake-up example that people do have a tremendously bad impact (asif the examples of Aral Sea and ozone hole could not be enough). The implicit but comfortable dogma that we can cause nothing globally catastrophic has to be shatered.

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 05:55:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Worldwide crop failure within 4 years seems like a pretty fucking grand way to shatter the myth.

But you have to get people to believe the explanation. Otherwise they'll just say "the market will provide genetically engineered resistant honeybees".

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:00:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How critical are bees to the pollination process of crops? They're by no means the only pollinators around.

Corn wouldn't be affected at all, for a start, being wind pollinated. Isn't that true of most of the grasses?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:02:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are other pollinators, and not all crops need assistance. But if these important pollinators bees go away, the agricultural scale might suffer. The food won't be all gone, but 6 billion people could be way too many suddenly.

And then we must talk about mounting consequences of "unintended" consequences. If you intend nothing but a quick profit, that is what you get.

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:13:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I think that grasses (corn, wheat,...) are all wind pollinated. For bee-pollinated plants, however, I gather that the alternatives to bees are often disastrously poor.

I just looked up info on the other huge-tonnage crop: Soybean plants are self-pollinating, auto-incestuous creatures.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:19:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We could always send out the unemployed with little brushes to pollinate the plants.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:03:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I somewhere have seen a picture of people doing just that. I think the people on the picture looked chinese, but that does not necessarily mean it was in China. Perhaps it was apple trees.

Or was it a bad dream? Seems harder to tell these days.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 08:37:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is done in Hawaii to keep some of the plants propagating outside of greenhouses.

 

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 12:50:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Inside, surely?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:00:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
through

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:08:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:09:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You may want both to prevent your plants's pollen from escaping the greenhouse, as well as having them cross-pollinated from outside.

You want to prevent propagation through the greenhouse walls, not only into or out of them.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:11:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also greenhouses are horrible places for diseases, pests, molds, fungi, & etc.  After a couple of years the most effective means to fight them is to burn the place down and rebuild in a new location.  And it is impossible to keep the place clean.  For example, the Tobacco Mosaic Virus is one nasty son-of-a-bitch and it is brought in on people's clothing exposed to cigarette smoke.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:21:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually & for real in the field!  

These are some dedicated folks.  I've seen pictures of guys dangling from ropes on a vertical seacliff busy with their little brushes.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:14:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Non-native plants with no local pollinators?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:23:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Native plants whose pollenators have gone extinct since the arrival of humans.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:50:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the market will provide genetically engineered resistant honeybees
Inshallah...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:16:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When the market will fail.. will there be many whiners living?
by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:21:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The market already failed for many...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:42:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The burden of proof has to be diminished. The happy end hypotheses are not more credible or better based on evidence a iota - they just do not have to be "proved".

People do not have to be convinced beyond any doubt. Hell, the Iraq war was allowed very easily.

Simple cautionary logic is just not being applied - that's why it looks like non-starter. No one wishes to be good in repeating: Is it worth to give yet another few reckless project every convenience to prosper at dire risk to everyone. Would it be a really big problem if caution will make some "opportunites" more difficult?

Just look at education of kids today to see the modern mindsetting. Everything has to be fun: learning manners must be fun, spelling must be fun, math must be fun, taxes must be fun, elections must be fun. You don't have to do anything in life that is not fun! You don't have to do anything that does not benefit you immediately! You don't have to worry about anything, but your weekend! Everything you do can be (and must be) easy!

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:45:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not diminished but shifted.

The standards for clinical and field trials keep being eroded on "efficiency" and "growth" [read: profit] grounds.

Look at REACH as a model: any chemical that is not demonstrably safe will be phased out.

It's not for people to show that GM is unsafe, but for the GM industry to show their product is safe. Unfortunately, "safe to humans" seems not to be enough in this case, but it shouldn't have been. After all, insecticides may be developed for a given parasitic species but may harm other useful ones. And biologists know this stuff.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:57:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Biologists have the same affect on goverment policy as Climate Scientists: none.  

Ms. ATinNM worked on antibiotic resistence transfer factors in the mid 70s.  Her lab was showing the use of Tetracyline in animal food, only used to increase the weight gain per pound of food, was creating Tetracyline resistent bacteria in the human gut.  The major researcher pissed someone off at the FDA and the lab was shut down.

Just as snark: the lab got its samples of environmental e. coli by swabing the tables of the local McDonald's.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:06:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ms ATM is my new personal hero.. if you ever get divorced.. make me know :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 01:56:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fun, fun, fun! Yes! Aren't fun and pleasure equivalent to utility, hence what all rational beings should attempt to maximise?

But perhaps there is some connection between making today's news (etc.) fun and making the next decade or century miserable. And perhaps I'm forgetting other non-"fun" dimensions of a life well lived.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:27:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Utility is one-dimensional thinking.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:53:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Considering multiple dimensions seems common in many social-science contexts. However, the idea that there are directions (in the sense of greater-than and less-than relationships) that do not correspond to dimensions seems less common. Mac Lane asserted that a major failing of the social sciences is neglect of the concept of partial order. The idea that unordered and (fully) ordered form a dichotomy does seem to be widespread.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 03:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the long run, anything important and useful should collarate with fun. That is the best guidance to keep doing important and useful things.

But it is quite fooling yourself to call everything you have to do fun. Come on, cleaning cat's corner is not the same fun as playing with mum. You clean cat's corner to have actual fun later (better smell in the room, happier and healthier cat), or rather, to keep having (perhaps diminishing) fun with the cat.

In a sense, we can bring now all desired experience to the common fun denominator because we can afford to. (So far, perhaps.) In harder times, you do things for living, not so much for fun.

by das monde on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:57:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But I don't enjoy fun.
(This is a failing, though.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 03:29:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm... I have instincts to resist fun as well, I suppose!

Habits and prejudices can be stronger than drive for pleasure, for (mostly) good reasons.

by das monde on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 04:20:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If this really is due to pollen from GM crops, 1) how does one prove the connection

Field Biology research requires a large enough statistical universe over a broad range of climatic, weather, soils, moisture, & etc conditions.  This takes 3 to 5 years. If you're lucky.  If a research crop gets a Eatus Muchas pest infestation then you're screwed for that year and the whole data set from that location maybe hosed as you've lost the time series correlation to other sites.  Then you start eliminating and, hopefully, come-up with a systemic constant with a high (97%+) confidence factor.

2) how does one get the GM industry and the governments to acknowledge it?

Forget convincing the GM industry.  They have billions riding on their stuff and they could give a flying fart. Reducing to a previous solution we start screaming at our elected representatives, I guess.  

<rant>

What is maddening is I did a study in 1991/2 comparing open field pollenated corn with commercial seed corn.  Although the initial yield was lower (as much as 60% of the best commercial seed,) the cost/benefit was obvious for the open field corn.  First, the cost of seed was less.  Second, didn't have to purchase any more seed.  Third, the corn, over time, adapted to the specific farm's soil types increasing yield over time.  Fourth, the open pollenated corn was hardier to pests, diseases, fungi -- 'stress.'  (Thus) Fifth, the need for additional inputs (pesticides, herbicides, & etc) was reduced to as little as 25% of previous requirements, depending on the farming practices.

The GM corn is only needed because the stupid f*ckers keep planting the same g*dd*mned cultivar which was bred solely for yield dropping dead when a bird craps on it in a field that has never been rotated to another crop long enough for pests and diseases to die off, predators on those pests are eliminated by the hundred million tons of chemicals dumped on the field, and without another hundred tons of fertilizer the damn things wouldn't grow anyway as the soil minerals were leeched out in 1957 and the last micro-organism attempting to live in the topsoil was killed in 1963.  

(Only my opinion, of course.)

</rant>

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:19:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(Only my opinion, of course.)

If it's any consolation, mine too.

The argument, btw, of the "Green Revolution" sparked by hybrid corn from the 1950s on is being used to great effect here in France to persuade farmers that, with GM varieties, they are on the brink of a second such revolution. On the basis, of course, of yields alone.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:53:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Via Le Monde (see second article at the link, in French), about the declining honey production, and the pesticides that have long been blamed and took many, many years to be finally banned - but it's no longer enough.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 08:45:53 AM EST
On the possible link to BT corn: I think it's a long shot. Maize is a wind-pollinated plant, bees don't visit it (are not attracted, the plant doesn't have to seduce them), and don't collect pollen from it. The experiment mentioned required deliberate feeding of Bt "food".

To determine whether there was an effect, though, would require analysis of the larvae in the hive, since Bt kills larvae (a crystal protein perforates their intestine). A dead colony would then be one whose larvae had all died, and therefore whose adult insects were not replaced.

However, bees have been suffering for years now from a combination of attacks on their robustness and resistance. Chemical pesticides (fipronil and imidaclopride in particular) have been associated with colony deaths (and their use has been restricted). A parasite, the varroa mite, has settled in with a vengeance. (I've also been hearing about new killer hornets that attack hives...) It's possible that BT crops will add to this weakening by putting another bee-negative substance out there.

As to whether the disappearance of bees would be catastrophic, so many plants are pollinated by them the ecological consequences would be enormous. Human foods at risk, apart from rapeseed and sunflower (oils) would include most kinds of fruit.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 10:45:05 AM EST
Question: what is the species that BT corn is designed to kill?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:06:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bt Corn is used to kill European Corn Borer (Ostrinia nubilalis Huebner). This brown moth is a serious pest on corn in southern Europe, where more than one generation per year is possible. In northern Switzerland and southern Germany, only one generation can develop each year. Northern Germany and the Netherlands have no significant problem with this pest.

Bt Corn is used in Spain (about 12% of all corn) but not on any significant scale in other European countries. Studies have not shown any dramatic impact on the environment, but the jury is still out on this (ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS: TEN YEARS OF FIELD RESEARCH AND COMMERCIAL CULTIVATION
Olivier Sanvido, Michèle Stark, Jörg Romeis and Franz Bigler December, 2006) I can recommend this study (you can find it at http://www.isb.vt.edu/articles/dec0603.htm) because I know the scientists and they are serious researchers not working for Monsanto or Greenpeace.

by bastiaan on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 06:54:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From Wikipedia:
In 2001, Bt176 varieties were voluntarily withdrawn from the list of approved varieties by the Environmental Protection Agency when it was found to have little or no Bt expression in the ears and was not found to be effective against second generation corn borers. (Current status of Bt Corn Hybrids, 2005)
Also:
Upon sporulation, B. thuringiensis forms crystals of proteinaceous insecticidal δ-endotoxins (Cry toxins) which are encoded by cry genes. Cry toxins have specific activities against species of the orders Lepidoptera (Moths and Butterflies), Diptera (Flies and Mosquitoes) and Coleoptera (Beetles). Thus, B. thuringiensis serves as an important reservoir of Cry toxins and cry genes for production of biological insecticides and insect-resistant genetically modified crops.

...

Spores and crystalline insecticidal proteins produced by B. thuringiensis are used as specific insecticides under trade names such as Dipel and Thuricide. Because of their specificity, these pesticides are regarded as environmentally friendly, with little or no effect on humans, wildlife, pollinators, and most other beneficial insects. The Belgian company Plant Genetic Systems was the first company (in 1985) to develop genetically engineered (tobacco) plants with insect tolerance by expressing cry genes from B. thuringiensis.



"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:16:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In BT corn (as I understand it, my source being a researcher speaking at the town hall meeting I mentioned in a couple of comments here) the gene of interest is cry1ab. It produces a cry (crystal) protein lethal to lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars). The corn borer is the targeted pest, but all lepidoptera could be adversely affected.

The researcher (working on corn borer resistance) said different strains of bacillus thurengiensis produced species-specific toxins. I wonder how true that will turn out to be (meaning, in time, will we not learn there's some bleed-over to other species than the target?) - though I still doubt the (more than marginal) effect on bees of BT corn, since bees don't collect that pollen.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:48:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is from an informative page:

Bacillus thuringiensis

For many years, Bt was available only for control of lepidoptera, using a highly potent strain (B. thuringiensis var kurstaki). This strain still forms the basis of many Bt formulations. Further screening of a large number of other Bt strains revealed some that are active against larvae of coleoptera (beetles) or diptera (small flies, mosquitoes). Most of these strains have the same basic toxin structure, but differ in insect host range, perhaps because of different degrees of binding affinity to the toxin receptors in the insect gut. For example, the toxins produced by B. thuringiensis var aizawai have somewhat different toxins from those of B.t. var kurstaki and they are highly specific to lepidoptera, with no effect on other insects. The many commercial strains for control of lepidoptera are marketed under various trade names such as Biobit®, Dipel®, Javelin®, etc.

In contrast, the toxins produced by strains of B.t. var israelensis are highly active against simuliid blackfly vectors of some tropical diseases, and also against fungus gnat larvae and some types of mosquito (especially Aedes species, but higher toxin doses are needed for control of Culex spp. and Anopheles spp.). Trade names for these products include Skeetal®, Vectobac® and Mosquito Attack®.

Strains of B.t. var san diego or B.t. var tenebrionis are marketed for control of some coleoptera - especially for control of the important Colorado potato beetle.

Bees are hymenoptera.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 12:26:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To determine whether there was an effect, though, would require analysis of the larvae in the hive, since Bt kills larvae (a crystal protein perforates their intestine). A dead colony would then be one whose larvae had all died, and therefore whose adult insects were not replaced.

The striking feature of CCD is that bees die in fields, outside beehives. Adults bees are affected, right at work. Larvae might suffer as well - but by definition, CCD is not a failure of the reproductive chain.  

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 10:53:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A detail -- it's not that the crystal perforates the intestine, but that it dissolves to release a toxin that attacks the intestine. Much more elegant, from a molecular perspective.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 02:12:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to my reading and explanations I heard given by researchers, the cry protein is a large, three-part molecule, one part of which has the specific function of acting as an ion channel through the intestine wall.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 03:00:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Though it's true the molecule is split before becoming active.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 03:12:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, using an ion channel makes even the piercing part  pretty much on target -- as I said, a detail.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 03:26:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know why people need to settle on the most dramatic conclusions.  I guess alarmism sells news but it is really not helpful when trying to form scientific hypothesis.  First everyone likes to pick his or her favorite enemy.  Here it is transgenic crops, which without really knowing anything about them, one concludes that they must be bad.  Although the jury is still out one would suspect if this were the cause of colony collapse it would have been noticed in North America years ago and on a large scale.  Whatever is causing colony collapse is relatively new and there could very well be a number of reasons.  The collapse of colonies and the increase of parasites and fungi are not surprising since the colony functions as a `superorganism'.  Once the number of individuals drops below a certain level there are no longer enough bees to care for brood, or forage, or defend the colony and maintain homeostasis.  It is likely that some strains of bees are resistant and certainly there are other pollinators, although agriculture is not geared up to utilize them.  My guess is that it is a pesticide and probably a recently introduced systemic one, unlike Bt it is a general insecticide.  If so, other pollinators would be just as affected as honey bees.  The mystery will solved shortly.
by bellumregio on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:48:47 AM EST
The article refers to a scientific experiment in which bees were fed pollen from BT corn and the weaker bees had problems with it. Or didn't you see that bit?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 12:00:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking of selling news, if media headlines is a good indication of what sells best, these must be unbeatable hot topics: dissapearance (or "mysterious" deaths) of Caucasian females or boy-scouts; another verbal slipup of a progressive politician; fundrasing records of politicians; legal problems of celebrities; and such.

Regarding potentially dangerous problems, say, global warming, the most you can read are excuses to ignore them. In particular, there is not much in the media that you can read about the bee problem. When the media - perhaps fully controlled by narrow minded interests of minimum industrial accountability, I am just guessing - does not provide any reasonably concerned framework to discuss environmental problems, you get to read running-scared punks like me (haha).

The mystery will be solve shortly.

Firstly, there are different levels of "solving". You may find out how the problem arrises, or how it works, but you may have little clue how to solve it with widely acceptable means.

Secondly, this particular mystery might be solved soon, but maybe not soon enough. I am skeptical that we will eventually solve every problem we came accross with our modern headlong enterprising adventure. We are at the stage when we make more problems than we solve.  

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 10:38:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We are at the stage when we make more problems than we solve.

To put this another way, we're reaching the limits of our ability to manage the level of complexity we've created.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:18:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In some ways I can't but agree.  Oddly, tho', many problems we're seeing (if one has the eyes) in the bio-sphere are the result of a reduction in Complexity.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:51:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We do not even make a conscious effort to manage the complexity we are generating. We are just minding each own buisiness, piously believing that Free Market will solve everything.

Iraq's war is a typical example of the modern approach - you do "what you have to do", and then discover the next level of mess.

by das monde on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 12:03:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the number was 96, microbiologists of world renown, all dead under questionable circumstances.

We also have the ability to generate radio frequency wave up into the terahertz range.  This is something relatively new in the history of man.

by Lasthorseman on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 12:46:50 PM EST
Links to sources?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 12:48:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
http://100777.com/node/1175
http://www.mail-archive.com/libertarianisland@yahoogroups.com/msg02619.html
http://www.mail-archive.com/libertarianisland@yahoogroups.com/msg02619.html
Yes one might say net sources but still.

http://www.answers.com/topic/terahertz-radiation
http://www.mercola.com/article/microwave/hazards.htm

On the microwave deal.  I have a device which receives broadband RF and it picks up the microwave every time several yards away.  These 860 Mhz to 1.24 Ghz signals have become commonplace in urban settings in only a few short years.  Are they harmful?
Does a multi-year study exist?

by Lasthorseman on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 04:48:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No need to be snarky.  This is what I read "The study concluded that there was no evidence of a "toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations." But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a "significantly stronger decline in the number of bees" occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed."

These sorts of things always come down to lethal dose and the natural history of the organism.  Bees that already have significant parasites are usually weakened by other factors.  The relevance of which would have to be determined.  What is the physiological and ecological relevance of "highly concentrated Bt poison feed"?  It all comes down to the numbers.  I think the Kaatz study is shallow and not at all conclusive.
If Bt were effecting the bees it would be readily detectable in the hive since the brood would be little Bt factories.  Researchers would be looking at this first and are perhaps looking at it now.  Since there is nothing in the literature at this time I suspect no one has found it.  Also bees do not preferentially gather corn pollen. Also some researches have used Bt to control the greater and lesser wax moths (Galleria mellonella and Achroia grisella), which are parasites of bee colonies, and do not report an impact on the hives.  This reflects the taxa specific nature of Bacillus thuringiensis.

Does Bt play a role?  No one knows for sure, but it seems unlikely.  

by bellumregio on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 01:00:24 PM EST
I agree it seems unlikely, and have said so in my comments, adducing similar reasons to yours. What I was objecting to in yours was the assumption that people just go stupidly blaming a problem on something they don't like. There was all the same more substance in the quoted article than that.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 03:06:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
objecting to in yours...

Meaning your first comment.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 03:07:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, researches must go deeper, and they are willing to do that, eargerly. But as Kaatz observed, deeper research requires deeper pockets. Which libertarian heroes have to pay for that? Would generous government funding be still acceptable (and viable)?

The current episode is beyond natural for the bees. They can adopt quickly only by a mass extinction.

by das monde on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 10:47:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I heard yesterday that the same problem is going on in the US.. So it seems to be quite widespread.

Reasons.. pufff... did I explain the history of how the erradication of butterflies in one area of England elimianted a type of rabbit from the Island altogether?

I can make againt he joke about that even republicans know that rabbits do not eat butterflies.. and still...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 08:31:44 AM EST
It is happening in the US and it's a serious problem --

David Bradshaw has endured countless stings during his life as a beekeeper, but he got the shock of his career when he opened his boxes last month and found half of his 100 million bees missing.

<snip>

A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. "Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food," said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.

You can find the rest of the article here.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 12:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have read a bit about the bee problem here in the US. One thing that has not been mentioned so far in the thread is that some US commercial pollinators (the folks who drive their hives all around the country following the blooms) feed their bees corn syrup as an energy boost and to replace the honey that has been taken. My understanding is that this mostly occurs early in the year. It would be logical to assume that most corn syrup in the US is made with genetically modified corn, which could be the connection being looked for. Or, the corn syrup could just be as bad for bees as it is for us. Do bee keepers feed corn syrup to bees in Germany?
by toad on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 10:05:17 AM EST
See this earlier thread also initiated by das monde.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 30th, 2007 at 10:09:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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