A serious and mysterious disease has affected honeybees around the world this year. Since honeybees are used widely to pollinate commercial produce, this affects the production of one out of every three bites of food we eat. The disease, called Colony Collapse Disorder, has led to the loss of 50 to 90 percent of the commercial honeybees in 24 states already this year. When Colony Collapse Disorder strikes, the adult bees from a hive disappear and only some juveniles remain. The remaining young are heavily diseased, and, uncharacteristically for abandoned hives, the honey is left behind and other insects do not invade.

Scientists are unsure of the cause of Colony Collapse, and a team of specialists centered at Pennsylvania State University are currently investigating all possibilities. One such possibility is poor nutrition. Commercial honeybees are feed corn syrup to prepare for winter, and 40 % of corn grown in the US has been genetically modified to make it toxic to common corn pests. Preliminary data suggests that honeybees are not affected directly by the genetically modified corn, but that bees that eat the genetically modified corn become more susceptible to parasites.

According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of one of the studies, the genetically modified corn may have “altered the surface of the bee’s intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry — or perhaps it was the other way around. We don’t know.”