new bee pathogen associated with collapse of Coromandel bee hives

Yet another problem facing New Zealand beekeepers is the discovery of a new pathogen, Lotmaria passim, in hives from the Coromandel. The following is the text of a press release:

A Gisborne company, dnature diagnostics & research Ltd, developed the new diagnostics tests that were used to discover the presence of Lotmaria passim in New Zealand. The company is at pains to point out however that the new detection does not necessarily mean a new incursion, it may have quietly existed while no-one was looking for it.

However, L. passim – a trypanosome (a small single cell parasitic organism with corkscrew movements) – has been associated with overseas hive deaths especially in conjunction with Nosema ceranae – a fungal-like gut organism in honeybees – that has been in New Zealand since at least 2010 when it was first detected. L. passim scars the gut of the bees possibly allowing better colonisation of the Nosema ceranae.

Dnature has also recently discovered a number of areas in NZ have seen extraordinarily high levels of the two Nosema species in honeybees: Nosema ceranae and Nosema apis; the combination of which has been shown to markedly decrease bee lifespan and affect their homing ability. In short, the bees go out to forage and don’t find their way back to the hive and are dying at a younger age.

However as these agents were also found in hives that did not appear to be in poor health, additional tests were developed by dnature for organisms known as trypanosomes. Two were known in honeybees: Crithidia mellificae (since 1967) and Lotmaria passim (January this year) and had been described as showing worse effects when together with Nosema ceranae. Prompted by the new report and with the encouragement of the affected beekeeper scientist in Coromandel, John Mackay (technical director of dnature) designed new quantitative DNA tests to detect the presence of both species. Upon finding positives a second novel test was used to confirm that the positives were the more prevalent species worldwide: Lotmaria passim.

At the same time, samples from around the North Island were tested along with samples going back to 2012. Lotmaria passim was found in a number of them indicating that the pathogen was more widespread than the Coromandel and had been here for several years at least.

What does it mean? In essence, too early to tell. More testing from different areas is required along with repeated sampling from sites over the course of a beekeeping season. The organism has only been described and named since January this year and so very little is known about it. But the rapid and quantitative tests developed by dnature will go some way to helping answer the questions arising.

Dnature has been DNA testing a suite of bee viruses, including nosema species for several years. These tests, along with Lotmaria passim, are available from dnature and can be supplied in a kit format for other laboratories for testing.

For general information, please contact: Belinda Mackay – General Manager mob 021 415 100

For technical information, please contact: John Mackay – Technical Director mob 027 362 8873

The Beekeepers’ Association would like beekeepers to monitor their hives for symptoms of disease and report them to assist tracking of the prevalence of this pathogen.

Dnature are offering free tests for L. passim alongside all Nosema tests.


Research Update

Having meant to write several posts about exciting things that have gone on in the past couple of weeks I am now faced with combining them all, for efficiency’s sake, into another “research update”.

This week I have received an enquiry about analysing pigments and toxins found in the colourful tips of New Zealand giant springtailsHolacanthella. This could be a really cool little piece of analysis if it works. I’m going to have to head out into the Waitakeres to poke some lumps of rotting wood in the hope of finding some of these punk woodlice to play with.

After a visit from Don MacLeod of the NZ Beekeeper’s Association last week I am testing out some more extractions of neonicotinoid pesticides. A new paper was published this week in Environmental Chemistry documenting the occurrence of these pesticides in pollen and honey from hives across the US. The paper was written by Alex Chensheng Lu et al (2015), who kindly shared a copy with me. The paper reports that, during the Summer months, several neonicotinoids were present in pollen at concentrations of several ng/g; concentrations that may be acutely toxic to bees (Laycock et al 2012). The authors discovered measurable concentrations of at least one neonicotinoid pesticide in >70% of honey and pollen samples. I am hoping I can repeat their analysis in New Zealand samples to see if we have a similar issue here.

I have also been developing a method for the quantification of bile acids by LC-MS, which is causing me headaches as certain compounds won’t stay in solution (lithocholic acid, I’m looking at you), some seem to have a very low response in the instrument and others are playing hide-and-seek! The solution, as ever, is a bigger chicken.

I have also been plotting further awesome research plans for the future, submitting an application for a Summer studentship to get someone to look at polysaccharide structures, again with LC-MS. My life seems to revolve around the instrument sometimes but this week has not been all about the liquid phase. I have also been emailing around the results of some test analyses I conducted using methyl chloroformate derivatisation and GC-MS to try and expand the use of this very nice little method within the school. Consequently I found myself preparing samples of mangrove leaf extract, lamb and wagyu beef, fermented mussel liquor and hydrolysed beef protein. I was meant to have a go at some polyamines for another of the PhD students but I forgot their sample. Doh.

Apart from this mass-spectrometry-based fun I may have a student looking to measure total triacylglycerol content and fatty acid profiles of fish oocytes at some point. I’ve also had a really awesome kick-off meeting for my new PhD student, who is going to be studying plant phenology. We are kicking about ideas for the acquisition and installation of a phenocam.

Its been a crazy busy week!


Chensheng (Alex) Lu, Chi-Hsuan Chang, Lin Tao and Mei Chen (2015). Distributions of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: a temporal and spatial variation analysis for pollen and honey samples. Environmental Chemistry

Laycock I, Lenthall KM, Barratt AT, Cresswell JE (2012). Effects of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide, on reproduction in worker bumble bees (Bombus terrestris). Ecotoxicology 21(7):1937-45.