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New virus threatening world's bee populations

"Future challenges will be assessing the biological relevance of these novel pathogens," said researcher Gideon Mordecai.

By
Brooks Hays
Research suggests bees and other pollinators now face the threat of a new virus carried invasive wasps. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Research suggests bees and other pollinators now face the threat of a new virus carried invasive wasps. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

NORWICH, England, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Scientists have identified a new threat to bees, a virus carried by the invasive parasitic wasp species Vespula pensylvanica. According to a new study in journal Scientific Reports, the Moku virus is a threat to all pollinators, not just honey bees.

The virus is named for the Hawaiian island where it was first isolated. Recent DNA analysis by scientists at the Earlham Institute in England confirmed the virus' unique genetic material.

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"The use of next generation gene sequencing techniques has led to a rapid increase in virus discovery, and is a powerful tool for investigating the enormous diversity of viruses out there," lead researcher Gideon Mordecai said in a news release.

Mordecai hopes his team's findings inspire scientists to more closely monitor the threat of new viruses -- and the risk of transmission -- among invasive species.

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Unlike other species, limited by ecological niches, invasive species -- with track records of global adaptability -- are more likely to encourage the spread of viruses.

It's not clear yet how exactly the health of bee populations will be impacted by the new virus, but the research suggests the virus is likely to spread among bees endemic to Hawaii.

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"Future challenges will be assessing the biological relevance of these novel pathogens and the role they play in the ecology of their hosts," Mordecai concluded.

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While parasitic wasps and the viruses they carry are a distinct threat to bees and other pollinators, a number of studies suggest it is the cumulative effect of habitat loss, pollution and pesticides that render bees vulnerable to disease and prone to colony collapse.

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