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Long Island News

Long Island Teen May Have Solved Colony Collapse Disorder

Bill Damon

A disease that acts similar to HIV could be killing bees around the country, and a teenager from Greenport, Long Island, has an award-winning theory on what could be causing it.

Joe McInnis, age 14, always had an interest in science. A teacher suggested that he start a research project on Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, in which bees inexplicably abandon their hives, lose their sense of direction and then die.    

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in 2011 the number of beehives across the United States was at its lowest point in 50 years. Bees are responsible for about one-third of the world's food supply by pollinating major crops.

McInnis says, “It matters a lot to me. I think because the bees are so important to our entire world, I would really like to see this project have some good outcome to help the scientific world.”  

Joe reached out to scientists at Plum Island Animal Disease Center for help, and was put in contact with retired pathologist Dr. Doug Gregg, who agreed to help the teenager.

In a makeshift laboratory in a piano repair shop in Greenport, Joe and Dr. Gregg are researching whether iridovirus, an immunosuppressant virus, is the cause. Their theory is that iridovirus makes bees more vulnerable to common diseases once they come into contact with wax worms found in their hives.

McInnis says, “We’re trying to see if this virus can exist in the worms and the mites and the bees, which all exist in the beehive. And were trying to find out if this virus is slowing down the bees’ immune systems in the hive and then another problem, another disease that the bees are getting might actually be causing the bees to die.”

Dr. Gregg says the wax worm is easily infected with iridovirus. “When the bees try to get them out, either by dragging them out or biting or pulling them, they might get infected that way or by mites, which is pretty common in colonies, too.”

Dr. Gregg says it could take up to six months to find a procedure that is reliable in finding the virus.  

Joe recently became the youngest person to receive an award from The New York State Histotechnological Society for his research into CCD.