Discovering and diagnosing honey bee killers

How can we identify pathogens that are causing honey bee deaths?
You may have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, a syndrome likely caused by multiple factors that results in the deaths of many honeybee colonies. Become a diagnostic researcher and use bioinformatic tools to discover some of the pathogens that may be responsible. See teacher background →


# Sample bees for mites

Students learn a procedure to sample a varroa mite infestation of a honey bee colony. (This activity requires access to a honey bee colony and should be done alongside an experienced beekeeper.)


# Analyze sequences

Students analyze genetic sequences to identify the virus associated with colony loss.


# Develop primers

Extension: Students create PCR primers from genetic sequences to develop new diagnostic tests for DWV variants (Types A & B).


Teacher background

According to the US EPA, “Colony Collapse Disorder [CCD] is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.” (US EPA) Although this was once thought to be an increasing problem, the number of reported cases of CCD are now holding steady over the past five years, yet it is still a concern.

Along with CCD, an increasing number of pathogens and pests are associated with colony decline. Varroa mites, parasites that feed on developing honey bees, increase brood mortality and reduce the lifespan of worker bees. They also transmit numerous honey bee viruses. While all viruses have genetic material, some consist of single-stranded RNA that is replicated in a host cell. This unit focuses on some of the most devastating groups of RNA viruses on honey bees: Deformed Wing Virus, or DWV.

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Created in partnership with the National Agricultural Genotyping Center.

Next gen science standards

Science and engineering practices

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting concepts

  • Patterns
  • Stability and change

Disciplinary core ideas/content

  • ESS2A Earth materials and systems
  • ESS2E Biogeology
  • LS1D Information processing
  • LS4A Evidence of common ancestry and diversity
  • ETS2B Influence of engineering, technology and science on society and the natural world

Curriculum author