Thursday, October 07, 2010

Man's Incessant Networking, Refusal to Throw Away Crap From His Wallet - Ever - Leads to Revolutionary Breakthrough in Devastating Biological Mystery
Well, ok, it's not quite like that, but still a really good story. Researchers may have finally, finally discovered the cause of the honeybee "colony collapse" that has threatened the pollination needs of farmers all around the world. Starting in 2006, beekeepers began finding completely empty hives. Bees not only died mysteriously, but abandoned the hive and spread out in every direction to die on their own. Highly un-beelike behavior.

Everything from cell phone towers to pesticides have been suspected, but the answer finally came when bee researchers teamed up with the military, whose new systems for identifying microscopic life forms turns out to be exactly suited for this problem they weren't even thinking about. How did they get together? That's where the man who keeps business cards comes into play.
The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain. The power of that idea in military or bee defense is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for.

But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.

Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.

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