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Progress made in research on mysteriously disappearing honeybees

Researchers identify virus possibly responsible for declining honeybee population using 454 Life Sciences' sequencing technology; findings published in Science implicate virus in deaths of tens of billions of bees

Russo Partners, LLC

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IMAGE: Michael Egholm, vice president of research and development, 454 Life Sciences. view more

Credit: 454 Life Sciences

BRANFORD, Conn. - September 6, 2007 - 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company, today announced that researchers at Columbia University have identified a virus implicated in the deaths of 2.4 million honeybee colonies - tens of billions of bees - using the company's Genome Sequencer™ system.

The findings explain how foreign organisms living in and among the bees were identified by reading sequences of DNA isolated from the bee colonies. The study, entitled "A metagenomic survey of microbes in honey bee colony collapse disorder", appears online (ahead of print) today in the journal Science. Using 454 Sequencing technology, Dr. Ian Lipkin, Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues sequenced DNA and RNA samples that were extracted from collapsing and healthy bee colonies in search of any pathogen responsible for the collapse.

The research identified five major bacterial groups, four lineages of fungi and seven types of viruses. While most of the foreign organisms were found in both the collapsed and healthy bee colonies, one virus, Israeli Acute paralysis Paralysis Virus (IAPV), was found only in the collapsed colonies. As discussed today in Science: "Although we have not proven a causal relationship between infection and CCD, the prevalence of viral sequences in CCD operations ... make IAPV a leading candidate."

"Unbiased 454 Sequencing technology enabled us to rapidly assemble a comprehensive inventory of microflora in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and non-CCD populations and provided the sequence information needed to identify candidate pathogens," stated Dr. Lipkin. "CCD is a model for investigating epidemics of unexplained infectious disease"

Bees play an integral role in the world food supply and are essential for the pollination of more than 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide. The economic value of these agricultural products is placed at more than $14.6 billion in the United States alone. In CCD, honeybee colonies inexplicably lose all of their worker bees. CCD has resulted in a loss of 50% to 90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the United States. The observation that irradiated honeycombs from affected colonies could be repopulated with healthy bees, while non-sterilized combs could not, suggested an infectious basis for CCD. Suspected pathogens were screened for association with CCD by examination of samples collected from several sites over a period of three years.

"We are very pleased to see our technology applied to solve real-world problems. There were a lot of examples during the last months, from cancer research, infectious diseases research, drug discovery, marine biology, anthropology, paleontology, and many more. We are hopeful this latest research will help eliminate the threat of CCD to global agriculture" said Christopher McLeod, president of 454 Life Sciences. "The chief advantage of 454 Sequencing technology is how it enables researchers to identify the organisms present in complex environments without any advance knowledge of the sample."

CCD was first reported in the fall of 2006 in the Unites States. Since then, CCD has been reported in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. A recent survey of 13 states by the Apiary Inspectors of America showed that over a quarter of U.S. beekeepers have lost, on average, half of their bee colonies between September 2006 and March 2007.

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Link to B-roll: http://www.454.com/news-events/b-roll.asp
Animation: http://www.454.com/flash/roche-gene.asp
Michael Engholm Bio: http://www.eurekalert.org/images/release_graphics/Michael Egholm Bio.doc

454 Life Sciences develops and commercializes novel instrumentation for high-throughput DNA sequencing. Specific applications include whole-genome sequencing, RNA analysis and ultra-deep sequencing of target genes. The hallmarks of 454 Sequencing™ are its simple, unbiased sample preparation and massively parallel sequencing, which makes large-scale scientific projects feasible and more affordable. For additional information, please visit http://www.454.com.

About Roche and the Roche Diagnostics Division

Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Roche is one of the world's leading research-focused healthcare groups in the fields of pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. As the world's biggest biotech company and an innovator of products and services for the early detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, the Group contributes on a broad range of fronts to improving people's health and quality of life. Roche is the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics and drugs for cancer and transplantation, a market leader in virology and active in other major therapeutic areas such as autoimmune diseases, inflammation, metabolism and central nervous system. In 2006 sales by the Pharmaceuticals Division totalled 33.3 billion Swiss francs, and the Diagnostics Division posted sales of 8.7 billion Swiss francs. Roche employs roughly 75,000 worldwide and has R&D agreements and strategic alliances with numerous partners, including majority ownership interests in Genentech and Chugai. Roche's Diagnostics Division offers a uniquely broad product portfolio and supplies a wide array of innovative testing products and services to researchers, physicians, patients, hospitals and laboratories world-wide. For further information, please visit our website at www.roche.com.

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