When I was a child, I was terrified of bees. All I knew about bees was that they had stingers and if you were stung, it was painful.
This changed on my walks to first grade. My mother was home with a toddler and a new baby, so I hiked to school and back each day. I tended to dawdle on the way home, admiring homes and gardens on the way, driving my mother crazy.
A neighboring woman on this perambulation had a garden, and most days on my return trip, she was working in her garden. I don't recall her name. I know that at the age of six, I thought she was terribly old. I knew she was a widow, that she spoke English with an English accent, and that she loved her garden. I know today that her garden is what Americans describe as an "English garden"--stone walkways through a profusion of flowering flower beds.
I used to stop at her quaint fenced front yard on the way home and admire her flowers. No one had fences in their front yards in those days, but her picket fence seemed uniquely appropriate for her flower beds, walkways and Tudor-style architecture. She saw my curiosity and told me the names of some of the flowers, explaining that some blossomed in the spring and lasted for just a few weeks, and others lasted through the summer. These in turn were replaced in summer and fall with new blooms which led into the next season's growth.
She also saw that I was terrified of bees. Her garden swarmed with bees, and when they buzzed near, I would gasp and jump back from the fence.
"Bees are what make the flowers bloom," she explained to me. "Look, they won't hurt you." She placed her hand next to a bumblebee, and when she lumbered onto the hand, the gardener carried her over to me. My elderly mentor placed her hand next to mine, and sure enough, the bumblebee, having decided her hand was barren of pollen, came over to check my hand.
My fright vanished. The thrill of having this large, fat, fuzzy bee sitting calmly on my hand made me feel both honored and protective. (Of course, bumblebees are the most docile of bees, but I hadn't learned that yet.) After that, I loved bees. I loved them for their industry, for their grace, for their cooperative living, for their pollination and for the honey on my toast in the morning.
So for many years now, I have watched with dismay as Colony Collapse Disorder has spread throughout the world. Israel21c's Rachel Neiman weighed in with the latest developments:
CCD is characterized by the mysterious and inexplicable loss of worker bees in managed honeybee colonies. There is often still honey in the hive, and a few immature bees, but the adult bees have vanished. It was first noticed as a problem in the winter of 2006/7, when beekeepers began reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Since then, the crisis has grown. Last winter, a survey by the US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS) and Apiary inspectors showed that 36% of America's 2.4 million hives were lost to CCD. The survey covered almost 20% of America's 1,500 commercial beekeepers, and suggested an increase of 11% over the losses of 2007, and 40% over the losses of 2006. Similar losses are being reported in Italy, Spain, Greece, the UK, and other countries across Europe.
There is much at stake. "Today it's not about honey but about pollination," says Eyal Ben-Chanoch, CEO of Beeologics. Pollination using managed honeybees is a critical element in modern agriculture; more than 130 crops in the US require pollination, with an annual crop value of $15 billion.
Without bees, there is no honey. There is no pollination. There is no food and no beauty. Bees, small though they are, are life.
No one knows exactly what causes CCD. But, it appears that Israeli scientists may have identified a primary cause of CCD and taken steps to cure it:
One virus strongly associated with CCD, however, is Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV). Identified by Hebrew University of Jerusalem plant virologist Prof. Ilan Sela in 2004, the virus causes honeybees to suffer from shivering wings, followed by paralysis and death outside the hive. In 2007, the journal Science published research by a prestigious team of US scientists and researchers that found a significant connection between IAPV and CCD in honeybees.
[I]n the summer of 2007, [Beeologic's] founding research team - Ilan Sela, biochemist Dr. Eitan Glick and doctoral student Eyal Maori - began work to develop an affordable cure for the virus.
They turned to a longtime collaborator, plant virologist Dr. Gal Yarden...and to Nitzan Paldi, an expert in bee pollination and an experienced entrepreneur. Beeologics was founded as a commercial entity in October last year with the help of Eyal Ben-Chanoch, CEO of the new company.
Beeologics' solution, Remebee, utilizes a mechanism called RNA interference (RNAi, also known as gene silencing) a mechanism that inhibits or hinders gene expression. "The technology is based on naturally occurring biological agents. Conceptually, we're introducing the factor that prompts the silencing response," Paldi tells ISRAEL21c. "We didn't invent gene silencing. However, as far as we know we are among the first to use it commercially on non-humans."
According to the company, the patent-pending Remebee provides protection from IAPV and other bee viruses. The technology is potentially applicable to all bee viruses, precludes the possibility of virus breaking resistance, is non-toxic and leaves no residues in either honeybees or their honey.
We won't know with any certainty for a year, when the trials are finished. But I am proud today that Israelis have led the search, and perhaps found the cure, for the bees. We humans are concerned with flood, fire, famine, disease and war as it effects us -- and all too often overlook the small but essential creatures that make this planet fruitful.
We are the Stewards of G-d's Earth, all of us, and I am pleased to see my people in the forefront of research to save our bees.
What a great Rosh Hashana present to our world.
Shana Tova, everyone!