As previously reported by ScienceDaily and posted to Reddit, research botanists at Cambridge University have discovered the potential key to helping both the declining bee population and farmer’s agricultural yields through the use of the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV). During the study, it was noted that bees seemed to prefer plants that had been infected with the virus. They would go to the infected plants first, and they would stay by these plants longer than they would the healthy plants. The question was: why?
In order to attract potential pollinators, plants emit chemicals in the form of scent. The study found that the cucumber mosaic virus alters these chemicals. It does this by changing the expression of a gene in the tomato plants that it infects. The small alteration the cucumber mosaic virus causes in these chemicals subtly changes the scent emitted by the tomato plant, which is then detected by the bees. As a result, the bees are more likely to select an infected plant over a healthy one.
This selection provides a form of symbiotic mutualism. It aids the disease susceptible plants by attracting pollinators to them, which then aids the virus in spreading because it has more time to multiply and produce more disease susceptible plants. This research provided a key to understanding just how the cucumber mosaic virus is able to effectively spread throughout a farmer’s crops. This knowledge may lead to future discoveries that will positively impact both the bee population and disease resistant crops.
The scientists of this study believe that by further analyzing the chemicals that are emitted from the infected plants, they will be able to reproduce the smell artificially. The thought is that by artificially introducing this scent to crops that are not infected with cucumber mosaic virus, a healthier crop will be achieved. More bees will be attracted to the crops to pollinate them, which will help to provide larger yields of crops. In addition, this will potentially help the struggling bee population because it attracts them to plants that have healthy sources of pollen and nectar that are essential for their survival. If this study proves fruitful, both the agricultural and bee community will greatly benefit.