Professor suspects that hive collapses are caused by pesticides, which also could hurt human health

Aug 20, 2014 by Alvin Powell
Lu has continued to investigate the possible links among neonicotinoids, bees, and human health, saying the honeybee is a good model organism for potential pesticide impact, as well as for potential effects across generations. Credit: Wikipedia

It's become something of a rite of spring. Every March, newspaper stories sprout about local beekeepers opening their hives to find an ongoing environmental mystery.

Instead of hungry bees ready for the first flights of spring, honeycombs that should be empty after a long winter are full, and instead the hives are empty. For some reason, during winter's coldest months, these bees chose to leave the hive to perish outside.

Colony collapse disorder, as the condition is known, remains a mystery with troubling implications for the fate of the human food supply, which depends, in part, on pollinators like the honeybee. Explanations that have been offered include pathogens, modern beekeeping practices, malnutrition, climate change, and pesticides.

It is that last possible cause that stands out to Harvard School of Public Health's (HSPH) Chengsheng (Alex) Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology, who believes that the potential implications of colony collapse disorder extend beyond the drop in pollination—though that is worrisome enough—to the impact on humans of long exposure to low-level poisons like neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been suspected in the bee disorder. To Lu, it is an open question whether there are links between the pesticide and the recent increase in neurological conditions in children such as autism and ADHD.

To get to the bottom of the mystery, Lu has conducted pioneering research on the impact of on honeybees. In a study published in 2012, he replicated colony collapse disorder experimentally, feeding bees sugar water with different levels of neonicotinoids over 13 weeks in the summer and watching what happened.

At first, nothing did. The hives seemed unaffected and healthy as they got ready for winter. Then, the week before Christmas, roughly three months after the neonicotinoid treatment was halted, hives began to fail. Eventually 15 of 16 hives collapsed, even those treated with the lowest dose.

The work was noted for providing a concrete link to neonicotinoids, which are the world's most widely used group of insecticides.

One particularly disturbing aspect of the work, which Lu described during a lunchtime "Hot Topics" talk on Aug. 12 at HSPH's Kresge Building, is that the bees that abandoned the hive during the collapse weren't the individuals that ate the sugar water laced with neonicotinoids. During summer's period of high activity, bees live just 35 days, so the colony that collapsed contained the next generation of bees, indicating that the effect may have been passed on between generations.

Lu has continued to investigate the possible links among , bees, and human health, saying the honeybee is a good model organism for potential pesticide impact, as well as for potential effects across generations.

Neonicotinoids, chemicals similar to the nicotine produced by tobacco plants, have become widespread in part because of their ease of use, Lu said. Because they're water-soluble, the chemicals are taken up by a plant and spread throughout its tissues. Seed companies have made distribution even easier for farmers by coating seeds with the chemical, which ensures the plants sprouting from them contain the pesticide.

The chemicals are present not just in food plants, but are also widely represented in nursery stock, including plants sold at major garden retailers, Lu said. They're also found in the environment, and Lu said there are questions about their role in the loss of birds and aquatic invertebrates.

Lu described it as a race against time to save the bees, which are routinely transported around the country by commercial beekeepers to pollinate agricultural fields. He spoke to one blueberry farmer who said that before struck, he would pay $250,000 to have his fields pollinated. Today that figure stands at $750,000, and the cost is passed on to consumers.

Lu believes that the pesticide is fed to bees by unsuspecting beekeepers. The pesticide is widely used on corn, which is used to make high-fructose corn syrup. The corn syrup is mixed with water and routinely fed to bees by commercial beekeepers.

Affected , which include wild honeybees, Lu said, exhibit a range of , including disorientation, flying back to the wrong colonies, and abandoning colonies in winter.

"The [phrase] 'bee-line' is no longer valid," Lu said. "The question … is do these things also apply to human health?"

Explore further: Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New species and surprising findings in the Mariana Trench

58 minutes ago

The Mariana Trench located in the Western Pacific near Guam hosts the deepest place on earth, and has been the focus of high profile voyages to conquer its deepest point, Challenger Deep. A recent expedition ...

Nature offers video of 10 cutest animals of 2014

20 hours ago

(Phys.org)—The journal Nature has released a video that ventures a bit from its traditional strictly-science approach to technical journalism—it's all about the cutest animal stories of the past year ( ...

User comments : 21

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BSD
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2014
It's reasonable to assume that if pesticides kill six legged critters called insects. Then bees who also happen to have six legs, three body segments and other insect like characteristics, are going end up the same way.

The use of pesticides is going to be harmful to human health one way or another, if the chemicals aren't enough, there will be famine too. NO BEES, NO POLLINATION, NO FOOD.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2014
Try it without pesticides and then talk to us about famine...
BSD
5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2014
Try it without pesticides and then talk to us about famine...


So you either didn't understand my last sentence or fail to understand what bees do.

Try growing crops without pollination, then talk about famine.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (4) Aug 20, 2014
Try it without pesticides and then talk to us about famine...


So you either didn't understand my last sentence or fail to understand what bees do.

Try growing crops without pollination, then talk about famine.


I understand both, YOU don't seem to understand how pesticides are just as necessary to prevent famine as pollination. Moreover we would survive without bees, there are important staple crops which are pollinated by the wind (wheat and corn for instance). So your "no food" assertion is patently false.
Toiea
1 / 5 (4) Aug 20, 2014
My theory is, the food allergy, i.e. the allergization of bats and bees with pollens of GMO plants (corn) is the common culprit here. IMO even Monsanto thinks so - it recently purchased a CCD research firm Beeologics, that government agencies, including the US Department of Agriculture, have been relying on for help unraveling the mystery behind the disappearance of the bees. IMO the residual sequences of viral vectors presented in GMO are also responsible for whole spectrum of human autoimmune diseases - from autism to MRO.
LCR
2.5 / 5 (4) Aug 20, 2014
The issue here is that the "researcher" did not prove that neonics are the cause of CCD but only that they are toxic to bees which is acknowledged by everyone. Feeding bees at substantially higher levels than is found in the real world in a sugar solution which was their only food supply does not mean that neonics causes CCD. It just means that when toxic levels of neonics are fed to bees they will die. There is a huge leap from Neonocotinoids are toxic to bees and bees are experiencing CCD therefore Neonicotinoids are causing CCD.
If you are looking for a more comprehensive review of the value of these studies go to: http://scientific...gs-page/ and read the measured assessment of this work. Yes neonicotinoids are something to be concerned about but this is not the smoking gun that it is being portrayed.
supamark23
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2014
LCR, do you work for Bayer? Sounds like you work for a pesticide manufacturer.
LCR
not rated yet Aug 20, 2014
No, I'm just someone that does my own evaluation of news reports and has reviewed these studies as well as much additional information on bees, CCD, neonicotinoids and the overall assessment of the causes of CCD. In a joint report issued by the EPA and USDA the consensus of the scientific community that contributed tot he report is that CCD is caused by a number of factors which include pesticides as a whole not just neonics, but that pesticides were not the primary factor which they identified as: the parasitic mite Varoa Destructor, viruses, bacteria disease, nutrition issues, lack of forage and habitat depletion as well as pesticides.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

H. L. Mencken

supamark23
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2014
pesticides will lead to more disease because they weaken the bees, and neonicotinoids seem to be the worst offender.
Scroofinator
1 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2014
Hive collapses are mostly due to greedy beekeepers taking ALL of the honey and replacing it with high fructose corn syrup. Without the honey they aren't as able to cope with these intense pesticides.

http://phys.org/n...ide.html

http://www.asknat...1mPldXgc
Toiea
3 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2014
The bats have a similar problems with honey or without it. Their common point with bees is the consummation of pollens. The actual evidence for connection of GMO and CCD is in the fact, just this connection is not researched officially. If some research is apparently missing in contemporary science, it's the research which should be done - it's as simple as it is.
seakat
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2014
"Moreover we would survive without bees, there are important staple crops which are pollinated by the wind (wheat and corn for instance). So your "no food" assertion is patently false."

The only problem with your statement is that man can not live by staple crops alone.

PacRim Jim
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2014
So now mere suspicion is rigorous proof?
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2014
"Moreover we would survive without bees, there are important staple crops which are pollinated by the wind (wheat and corn for instance). So your "no food" assertion is patently false."

The only problem with your statement is that man can not live by staple crops alone.



Yes, actually we can.

Unless you're seriously suggesting that corn, wheat, rice, and all the protein we need. There is also parthenocarpy...not to mention the fact that one can pollinate by hand if it comes right down to it. Bees do nothing supernatural...
Watebba
not rated yet Aug 21, 2014
So now mere suspicion is rigorous proof?
Of course it isn't, but the systematical research of GMO and CCD connection is missing. The systematical research of GMO and autoimmmune diseases connection is missing. The systematical research of GMO and cancer connection is missing - actually no study of long-term toxicity of GMO are longer than nine months. Each attempt for longer study (where the cancer effects can manifest itself) gets attacked with Monsanto under legal threat. One doesn't need to be very clever for to recognize, there is smelling something. Sometimes the absence of rigorous proof is more than suspicion of the opposite effect.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2014
Many people don't realize that flowering plants are a very recent development in terms of life on earth...only about 160 million years ago. The "entire ecosystem" wouldn't collapse without them, just like it hasn't collapsed in the face of even up to 90% of species going extinct in a relatively short period of time. Humans, would be absolutely fine.

The daunting task would be to find a sufficient replacement for gifts for women.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2014
Here's some more perspective on the subject...

http://www.scient...ulation/

http://en.wikiped...equences
Watebba
not rated yet Aug 21, 2014
Honeybee Numbers Expand Worldwide as U.S. Decline Continues
It just plays well with dismissive stance of EU regarding the import of GMO and application of pesticides. After France the Monsanto's Mon810 corn has been banned in Poland. This is large country and so far it seems, this strategy works. Even the occurrence of white nose bat syndrome in the Europe is delayed after USA and generally lower.
Liquid1474
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2014
A world without bees 'cause of pesticides is bad enough; giving autism to our offspring because of continued pesticide use is worse.
IF you believe otherwise go F your bullS
Vietvet
not rated yet Aug 24, 2014
Many people don't realize that flowering plants are a very recent development in terms of life on earth...only about 160 million years ago. The "entire ecosystem" wouldn't collapse without them, just like it hasn't collapsed in the face of even up to 90% of species going extinct in a relatively short period of time. Humans, would be absolutely fine.

Would you please explain your statement "just like it hasn't collapsed in the face of even up to 90% of species going extinct in a relatively short period of time. Humans, would be absolutely fine"

Are you suggesting everything would be rosy if we lost 90% of global life?

zaxxon451
not rated yet Aug 25, 2014
Try it without pesticides and then talk to us about famine...


My organic garden does quite well without pesticides. You must work for Monsanto.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.