Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times
Research assistants at New York Medical College on Tuesday prepared to harvest swine flu virus that had been grown in eggs.

The New York Times, May 6, 2009, by Denise Grady  —  VALHALLA, N.Y. – As soon as Doris Bucher learned that a new strain of swine flu had turned up in the United States, she e-mailed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offering to send materials that might be useful in making a vaccine.

Her colleagues at the C.D.C. had a better idea. Less than a week later, they sent a sample of the new type of virus, influenza A(H1N1), to Dr. Bucher, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at New York Medical College.

Dr. Bucher, a cheerful, fast-talking scientist who has been involved in flu research for 40 years, runs a laboratory here in Westchester County that is highly regarded for its skill at turning flu viruses into “seed stock” – a form of the virus that will grow rapidly in eggs so that drug companies can use it to make hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine.

Federal health officials have not yet decided whether to call for a swine flu vaccine, but they say it is important to be ready for quick production of millions of doses. Because the virus is new, some people may need two shots to build immunity. The vaccine would probably be separate from seasonal flu vaccine, meaning a total of three shots might be recommended for certain people.

Creating the seed stock is an essential first step for any vaccine. So the C.D.C. has sent samples of the new strain to about 10 other government and academic laboratories in this country, Australia, Britain, Hungary and Russia. For the past five years, Dr. Bucher’s laboratory has provided seed stock for one of the virus strains included in the seasonal flu vaccine used all over the world.

“Our job is to make it grow really well,” she said. “We’re good at this.”

One of the group’s strengths has been in developing a “high-yield donor,” meaning an influenza virus that grows well in eggs and that, when injected into eggs along with a new strain like H1N1, will swap some of its genes with the new strain. An array of new viruses results, and the researchers can sort through it to pick ones that have donor genes inside the ball-shaped viral particles, so they will grow well in eggs, but that will retain the new strain’s traits on the outside – enabling the vaccine to spark immunity when injected into people.

The unlikely headquarters of this major player in the world’s supply of flu vaccine is a modest cluster of small to midsize laboratories with a half-dozen freezers, a walk-in incubator at 95 degrees Fahrenheit and a walk-in cold room. In the midst of it all is Dr. Bucher’s cluttered office, her desk awash in documents like “virus certificates” from the C.D.C. and handwritten bills for 84 dozen eggs.

A vial containing millions of swine flu viruses in a milliliter of fluid (about a fifth of a teaspoon) arrived at her lab on April 28, packed with dry ice in a plastic foam box inside a cardboard carton stamped, “infectious substance affecting humans.”

The viruses had been grown from a cotton swab rubbed in the nose and throat of a child in California who received one of the first diagnoses of the flu in this country.

Dr. Bucher’s team opened the box in a laboratory hood, a specially ventilated compartment that prevents any samples from escaping, and set to work. Wearing specially fitted masks, double gloves, surgical caps and other protective gear, their first task was to make more of the virus, by injecting it into fertilized eggs from leghorn hens. Creating seed stock is a quirky business that melds high-tech science and simple tools from 100 years ago. In one lab, members of the team amplify virus genes, cut them up with enzymes and analyze their origins. In others, their colleagues candle eggs, mark the shells with a pencil, pierce them with a drill bought at Sears and shoot them full of swine flu viruses.

Basically, the process involves repeated rounds of injecting the two types of virus into eggs, and sorting and purifying what grows. Each round of virus growth takes about 42 hours. The ultimate goal is to create a uniform seed stock from a single virus, and to produce 80 vials of it, each containing millions of viruses, that will be sent to drug companies, the C.D.C. and the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Bucher said she expected to ship out those 80 vials by May 25.

Members of the research team said they were used to working with flu viruses, and this one did not alarm them. Rene Devis, a research associate, admitted that he did feel a bit concerned at first.

“But you do what you have to do, especially if you can help save a life,” Mr. Devis said. “You don’t think of yourself.”

The swine flu came along just about a week after Dr. Bucher’s team had finished a seed stock for the next seasonal flu vaccine and started work on other projects.

Now they are back to flu viruses, and working so hard that Dr. Bucher fears they will burn out.

What if they make a seed stock, and then health authorities decide there is no need to make a vaccine after all?

“We’ll put it in the freezer,” Dr. Bucher said.

Press Release May 7, 2009 

Up to 2 Billion People Could Get H1N1 Flu

The World Health Organization said Thursday that up to 2 billion people could be infected by swine flu if the current outbreak turns into a pandemic. The agency said a pandemic typically lasts two years.

WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said the number wasn’t a prediction, but that experience with flu pandemics showed one-third of the world’s population gets infected.

“If we do move into a pandemic then our expectation is that we will see a large number of people infected worldwide,” Fukuda said. “If you look at past pandemics, it would be a reasonable estimate to say perhaps a third of the world’s population would get infected with this virus.”

In Mexico, which has had the most cases, high schools and universities opened for the first time in two weeks as the country’s top health official insisted the epidemic is on the decline. All students were checked for swine flu symptoms and some were sent home.

Fukuda said WHO is unable to know what the future holds and that it is impossible now to say whether the outbreak will turn into a pandemic or whether it would be a mild or severe strain of influenza.

Even with a mild flu, “from the global perspective there are still very large numbers of people who could develop pneumonia, require respirators, who could die,” Fukuda said.

People react differently to the flu depending on their general state of health and other factors.

Some younger people in the Southern Hemisphere may be more vulnerable because of malnourishment, war, HIV infections and other factors, Fukuda said. This means a mild outbreak in wealthier countries can be “quite severe in its impact in the developing world,” he said.

“We expect this kind of event to unfold over weeks and months. Pandemics don’t occur in a couple of days. When we go back and we look at history, we’re often looking at a one-year period. Really if you look over a two-period that is really the period in which you see an increase in the number of illnesses and deaths during a pandemic influenza.”

History has been the spur to WHO to make sure the world is as prepared as possible for a pandemic, which would be recognized by a rise to phase 6 from the current phase 5 in the agency’s alert scale. That would mean general spread of the disease in another region beyond North America, where the outbreak so far has been heaviest.

“I’m not quite sure we know if we’re going to phase 6 or not, or when we would do so,” Fukuda said. “It’s really impossible for anybody to predict right now.”

Mexican dance halls, movie theaters and bars were allowed to fully reopen Thursday after a five-day shutdown designed to curb the virus’ spread. Businesses must screen for any sick customers and restaurant employees must wear surgical masks.

Fans can attend professional soccer matches this weekend after all were played in empty stadiums last weekend.

Mexico confirmed two more deaths, for a total of 44, while 1,160 people have been sickened, up 90 from Wednesday. Despite death tolls and confirmed caseloads that rise daily, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova insisted the epidemic is waning in Mexico.

The WHO said the number of confirmed swine flu cases around the world has surpassed 2,000.

This swine flu seems to have a long incubation period – five to seven days before people notice symptoms, according to Dr. Marc-Alain Widdowson, a medical epidemiologist from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now tracking the flu in Mexico City. That means the virus can keep being spread by people who won’t know to stay home.

Mexico had mobilized teachers and parents to disinfect its schools before reopening. Primary schools reopen next week.

Laughing and joking, high school students gathered at the entrance of the National School of Graphic Arts in Mexico City, waiting to fill out forms that asked about their health.

Of 280 students entering the school in the first 20 minutes, two showed symptoms of swine flu, including coughing and nasal congestion, said assistant principal Ana Maria Calvo Vega. Their parents were notified and they won’t be readmitted without a statement from a doctor saying they don’t have the virus, she said.

Students at a Mexico City vocational high school were welcomed with a dollop of hand sanitizer and a surgical mask. Joyful to see each other again, students embraced and kissed – some through masks.

Parents expressed relief that their children, shuttered so long at home, could return to class. But they also worried that the virus could surge back once 40 million young people gather in groups again.

“My 17-year-old daughter is afraid. She knows she must go back but doesn’t want to,” said Silvia Mendez as she walked with her 4-year-old son, Enrique, in San Miguel Topilejo, a town perched in forested mountains near the capital.

Working parents have struggled to provide child care during the shutdown. It forced many to stay home from work, bring their youngsters to their jobs, or leave them at home.

Each school, Mexican officials said, had to be cleaned and inspected this week. Complicating the task: Many schools are primitive buildings with dirt floors and lack proper bathrooms. It was unclear how students attending those schools could adhere to the government’s strict sanitary conditions.

The government promised detergent, chlorine, trash bags, anti-bacterial soap or antiseptic gel and face masks to state governments for delivery to public schools. But some local districts apparently didn’t get the word.

U.S. health officials are no longer recommending that schools close because of suspected swine flu cases since the virus has turned out to be milder than initially feared. But many U.S. schools have done so anyway, including the school of a Texas teacher who died.

BloombergNews.com  —  Drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. said Wednesday that one of the patents on Azilect, its Parkinson’s disease drug, has been extended by five years into 2017.

The Israeli company said the U.S. Patent Office granted the extension. The patent had been scheduled to expire on Feb. 7, 2012, paving the way for competition from low-cost generic versions. The patent is now set to expire Feb. 7, 2017.

In 2008, worldwide sales of Azilect totaled $175 million.

Teva shares rose 85 cents to $44.69 in afternoon trading.

Extension of Patent Protection for Azilect(R) 

WallStreetJournal.com, May 7, 2009  —  JERUSALEM–(BUSINESS WIRE)  —-

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (NASDAQ: TEVA) announced today that the U.S. Patent Office has awarded a five year patent term extension to one of Teva’s Orange Book patents covering Azilect (U.S. 5,453,446). Azilect(R) is Teva’s innovative pharmaceutical product for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The patent, which was originally scheduled to expire on February 7, 2012 will now run until February 7, 2017, extending patent protection for this important Teva product.

About Teva

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., headquartered in Israel, is among the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world and is the world’s leading generic pharmaceutical company. The Company develops, manufactures and markets generic and innovative human pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients, as well as animal health pharmaceutical products. Over 80 percent of Teva’s sales are in North America and Europe.

Teva’s Safe Harbor Statement under the U. S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995:

This release contains forward-looking statements, which express the current beliefs and expectations of management. Such statements are based on management’s current beliefs and expectations and involve a number of known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause our future results, performance or achievements to differ significantly from the results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Important factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include risks relating to: our ability to successfully develop and commercialize additional pharmaceutical products, the introduction of competing generic equivalents, the extent to which we may obtain U.S. market exclusivity for certain of our new generic products and regulatory changes that may prevent us from utilizing exclusivity periods, potential liability for sales of generic products prior to a final resolution of outstanding patent litigation, including that relating to the generic versions of Neurontin(R), Lotrel(R) and Protonix(R), the current economic conditions, competition from brand-name companies that are under increased pressure to counter generic products, or competitors that seek to delay the introduction of generic products, the effects of competition on our innovative products, especially Copaxone(R) sales, dependence on the effectiveness of our patents and other protections for innovative products, especially Copaxone(R), the impact of consolidation of our distributors and customers, the impact of pharmaceutical industry regulation and pending legislation that could affect the pharmaceutical industry, our ability to achieve expected results though our innovative R&D efforts, the difficulty of predicting U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency and other regulatory authority approvals, the uncertainty surrounding the legislative and regulatory pathway for the registration and approval of biotechnology-based products, the regulatory environment and changes in the health policies and structures of various countries, supply interruptions or delays that could result from the complex manufacturing of our products and our global supply chain, our ability to successfully identify, consummate and integrate acquisitions, including the integration of Barr Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the potential exposure to product liability claims to the extent not covered by insurance, our exposure to fluctuations in currency, exchange and interest rates, significant operations worldwide that may be adversely affected by terrorism, political or economical instability or major hostilities, our ability to enter into patent litigation settlements and the intensified scrutiny by the U.S. government, the termination or expiration of governmental programs and tax benefits, impairment of intangible assets and goodwill, environmental risks, and other factors that are discussed in our Annual Report on Form 20-F and in our other filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

    CONTACT: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Elana Holzman, 972 (3)



Teva North America

Kevin Mannix, 215-591-8912

    SOURCE: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Copyright Business Wire 2009

GoogleNews.com, May 7, 2009  —  Building on its four-year-old environmental effort, ecomagination, General Electric Co. is launching a $6 billion health care initiative focused on improving health care for more people at reduced cost.

Officials at GE (NYSE: GE), which has 1,700 employees at its GE Money division in Kettering, said the initiative, dubbed “healthymagination,” is expected to result in the creation of low-cost health care products that can be offered in rural and underserved regions of the world, where quality health care can be difficult to obtain. It is also designed to reduce the company’s own health care costs for employees and expand profitability for the GE Healthcare business.

In addition, GE Capital will provide $2 billion in financing for advancing health care information technology and several GE businesses will spend $1 billion over the next five years for partnerships, media content and services related to healthymagination.

The initiative also includes the creation of the GE Healthy Advisory Board, which will report on the program’s progress. Fairfield, Conn.-based GE will engage experts and leaders on policy and programs and create the advisory board, which will include former U.S. senators Bill Frist and Tom Daschle and other global health care leaders.

Healthy imagination will draw on capabilities from across GE, including GE Healthcare, GE Capital, GE Water, NBC Universal, the GE Global Research Center as well as the GE Foundation, the philanthropic arm of GE.

“Health care is an important industry that is challenged by rising costs, inequality of access and persistent quality issues,” GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said. “Health care needs new solutions. We must innovate with smarter processes and technologies that help doctors and hospitals deliver better health care to more people at a lower cost.”

The goals of the $3 billion to be spent by GE Healthcare are:

  • Reduce by 15 percent the cost of procedures and processes with GE technologies and services;
  • Increase by 15 percent people’s access to services and technologies essential for health, reaching 100 million more people every year;
  • Improve quality and efficiency by 15 percent for customers through simplifying and refining health care procedures and standards of care.

GE intends to launch 50 low-cost products that offer powerful technology capabilities with simple operation and application targeted to achieve the 15 percent lower cost target, on average. These “only what is needed” products will be tailored to areas where access to health care technology is limited.

“Healthy imagination is our business strategy that seeks to help people live healthier lives, support customer success and help GE grow,” Immelt said. “We will invest in innovations that measurably improve cost, access and quality. That means lower-cost technology for more customers, products matched to specific local needs and process expertise to help customers win.

“This reflects the new opportunities we see in health care,” Immelt said. “Our newest innovations – low-cost digital x-ray machines, portable ultrasounds, more affordable cardiac equipment – will save costs for doctors, hospitals, the government, families and businesses. This will help level the playing field in health care. With our technology, rural and urban areas and developing countries can have access to the best technology, affordably.”

The company’s GE Aviation unit, which designs and manufactures engines for commercial and military aircraft, is based in Evendale.

Regenerative medicine experts are helping wounded vets regrow lost muscle tissue. Will fingers and limbs be next?

Anne Underwood

Newsweek Web Exclusive

May 7, 2009

In classical mythology, Prometheus was chained to a rock, where a vulture pecked out his liver every day. It would have been nothing short of a catastrophe, but, this being mythology, the organ grew back every night. In fact, liver tissue actually will regenerate, if less than half the organ is removed. (That’s why transplants are possible from living donors.)

Now science wants to do for other parts of your tired, aching body what mythology did for Prometheus (minus the vulture). Need a new knee, bladder or esophagus? Why not grow one? “We all did it once, in the womb,” says Alan Russell, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

Leading the charge are doctors like Stephen Badylak, director of the Center for Pre-Clinical Tissue Engineering at the McGowan Institute. Already his research techniques have been applied to more than 1.5 million patients needing new tissue to repair the rotator cuff or lower urinary tract. Now he’s working with the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) on a program to regrow fingers and limbs lost in battle. He spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Anne Underwood. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Your work sounds like science fiction.
Stephen Badylak: Starfish, salamanders and newts can regrow a lost limb. Human fetuses can also regenerate many structures during the early stages of fetal development. But that ability diminishes or disappears by the time we’re born. The question is why, because the information is still there in our DNA. We want to resurrect fetal wound healing.

Tell me about your work with AFIRM.
Because of innovative explosive devices, soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with lost fingers, lost hands, lost limbs. The only treatment options now involve prosthetic devices. For a 20-year-old, the rest of life is impacted in a negative way. The Defense Department is approaching this in a Manhattan Project mode. It’s put $100 million on the table to address these horrific problems from a regenerative-medicine standpoint.

Will you really be able to regrow fingers and limbs?
In the foreseeable future, I doubt it. Fingers and limbs are very complex. They include nerves, bone, skin, muscle and blood vessels. They’re also large. Limb formation in a fetus is on a scale of a few millimeters. In a human, you’re talking 20 pounds of flesh and bones.

But you’ve been able to regrow large portions of muscle.
A soldier in Texas had been injured by an explosive device in Afghanistan and lost a large portion of muscle in the upper portion of his leg. This loss significantly compromised his strength and range of motion and his ability to engage in normal activities. We helped regenerate a portion of that muscle, which is amazing. That never happens spontaneously. Over the next year, we’ll treat another eight to 10 soldiers.

How much of the muscle has grown back?
The results might be considered modest by some standards, but they’re significantly better than anything tried before. He’s had maybe a 12 percent increase in muscle mass, as measured by CT scan, and a 7 to 10 percent increase in strength over a two-month period. He wants a second procedure.

What made him a good candidate for this treatment?
The part of the muscle at the hip was intact, and the part at the knee was intact, so we were just replacing the section in between. Once you get the process started, the body takes over.

How do you initiate the process?
There are a number of approaches to regenerative medicine. But the one I’ve been working with involves harvesting the extracellular matrix (ECM) from a pig bladder or intestine and placing it at the wound site.

I doubt most people know what the extracellular matrix is.
If you take the bladder or small intestine and scrape away all the cells, what you’re left with is structural tissue like collagen and functional molecules such as growth factors. There are literally hundreds of these proteins, all housed in the ECM. They instruct cells on how to behave-whether to multiply or migrate or differentiate into different types of cells. They tell cells at the site of a wound what to do. Equally important, they recruit cells to the wound site that wouldn’t normally be there, such as stem cells. I wouldn’t be smart enough to put them all together, but I can harvest what nature has done.

How does tissue from a pig’s small intestine communicate to human muscle?
That’s a great question. Certain things are so important to mammalian survival that they are conserved across species. The amino acid sequences are either identical or else so close to those in humans that they deliver the same message.

And because the ECM contains no cells, you can implant it in a person without causing an immune reaction?

Is that enough to stimulate growth?
Simply placing the ECM at the site might get cells interested. But if you don’t recreate the micro-environment needed for tissue growth, it won’t happen. That means you need the right pH, oxygen, moisture and nutrients. You also have to apply the correct mechanical forces. An Achilles tendon, for example, has to bear weight. Without those signals, it will turn into loose connective tissue.

I know you don’t like to talk about this, but working with a powdered version of ECM, you helped three people regrow the tips of fingers that were accidentally severed.
The tips of fingers sometimes regrow anyway, especially in children, so we can’t prove this was because of our work. You would need a clinical trial.

Obviously, you didn’t start by regenerating large muscles. You began with smaller applications, such as rotator-cuff repair.
The rotator cuff is the tendon group around the shoulder that holds the arm in place and allows it to move in different directions. When it tears, there’s nothing a traditional surgeon can use to repair it now. It’s like trying to sew back wet Kleenex. But when we implant ECM, the body treats it as a scaffold on which it can build. The body’s own cells invade. The scaffold is gone within 75 days, as the body replaces it with its own tissue. More than 1.5 million patients have been helped with our ECM product Restore-and those of two other companies. It’s not true regeneration, because we’re using a scaffold. But it might be just as effective.

Can you see this becoming standard practice one day?
There are lots of clever new approaches to regenerative medicine. We’re learning which therapies work best for which applications. I believe we will get there.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/195978

Six Short Talks From Harvard
About Stem Cells

Part One – Understanding Embryonic Stem Cells & Disease

 Part Two – Understanding ESC & Disease

Part Three – Understanding ESC & Disease

Part Four – Understanding ESC & Disease

Part Five – Understanding ESC & Disease

Part Six – Understanding Embryonic Stem Cells & Disease

Business Journal of Milwaukee 

GoogleNews.com, May 7, 2009  —  Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. has agreed to license human embryonic stem cell patents from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the development of new drug therapies.

The license with the university’s patent and licensing arm, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, provides Pfizer the rights to work with human embryonic stem cells for drug research and discovery. Terms of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.

“Our license with WARF provides us with information and materials that will allow us to use their cell lines to explore a whole new range of therapies,” said Ruth McKernan, chief scientific officer of Pfizer Regenerative Medicine. “Stem cells can be used to create specialized human tissue. Our scientists will determine how new medicines may be able to improve the way stem cells regenerate damaged tissues. We will be optimizing the production of cells that could, one day, be used for therapeutic purposes.”

Stem cell research, pioneered at UW-Madison by biologist James Thomson, is viewed by many to be the gateway to finding cures to debilitating neurological and muscular diseases.

“To have these two giants in the field of biopharmaceutical research and stem cell research come together brings us one step closer towards finding relief from diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and cancer,” Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said about the licensing agreement.

Pfizer researchers and scientists are working to discover and develop new ways to treat and prevent life-threatening and debilitating illnesses, as well as to improve wellness and quality of life.

In November 2008, Pfizer launched the Pfizer Regenerative Medicine research unit. This independent research organization will build on Pfizer’s experience in this field and recent progress in understanding the biology of human embryonic stem cells. Pfizer’s initial research in this area focused on the development of drug discovery tools and now expands into developing regenerative medicines that could benefit millions of patients worldwide.


Ann Johansson for The New York Times


The New York Times, by Tammy Horn  —  Long known as the angels of agriculture, honey bees have received global attention due to losses attributed to a combination of factors: Colony Collapse Disorder, mites, deforestation and industrial agriculture. Honey bees provide pollination for crops, orchards and flowers; honey and wax for cosmetics, food and medicinal-religious objects; and inspiration to artists, architects and scientists.

While there are thousands of insects in the Hymenoptera order (for example, wasps, sawflies and ants), honey bees are the only living members of the tribe Apini, within the family Apidae. The one genus of honey bee Apis can be divided into three branches based on how honey bees nest: the giant open-nesting honey bees Apis dorsata and Apis laboriosa; the dwarf, single-combed honey bees Apis florae and Apis andreniformis; and the cavity-nesting honey bees Apis cerana, Apis koschevnikovi, Apis nuluensis, Apis nigrocincta, and Apis mellifera. These nine species thrive in environmental extremes like deserts, rain forests and tundra, but most people only know Apis mellifera, the agricultural darling.

Honey bees are eusocial. Adult bees are divided into a queen, female workers and male drones. The queen will leave the hive only once to mate with several drones, storing sperm in her spermatheca to last her lifetime. In order to rear and defend the eggs lain by the queen, worker bees develop stinging mechanisms, pollen baskets, dance languages and labor divisions. Tasks are divided according to age and colony needs. Younger worker bees tend to the queen, and older worker bees forage, construct wax cells, convert nectar into honey, clean cells and guard the hive. Ideally, a healthy hive is a collection of overlapping generations.

Evolving from short-tongued, spheciform wasps, honey bees first appeared during the Cretaceous period about 130 million years ago. At that time, present-day continents such as Africa, India, South America, Australia and Antarctica formed a single landmass called Gondwana. Germinating in the warm dry Gondwanan climate, flowering plants called angiosperms developed colors and petal patterns to attract insects, which were more reliable than wind to transfer pollen. In addition to pollen, flowers eventually produced nectar, providing carbohydrates to their winged vectors. About 120 million years ago, the honey bee developed its morphologies specifically to collect pollen and nectar such as increased fuzziness, pollen baskets, longer tongues, and colonies to store supplies.

As Gondwana gradually broke apart and temperatures cooled dramatically during the Oligocene-Miocene about 35-40 million years ago, European honey bees went extinct, while Indo-European honey bees survived and began to speciate. Open-nesting honey bees perhaps evolved before cavity-nesting bees, probably in India, but evidence is still lacking. In any event, a cavity-nesting honey bee spread east and north about six million years ago. During a Pleistocene warming about 2-3 million years ago, this bee spread west into Europe and thence into Africa to become Apis mellifera.

Early civilizations quickly mastered honey hunting skills, shown in rock art in Africa, India and Spain. Egypt, Greece, Italy and Israel developed organized beekeeping centers until the Roman Empire dissolved in approximately 400 A.D. Christianity monasteries and convents then served as apiculture centers until Henry VIII closed them at the beginning of the Reformation. Science and technology provided the next insights into apiculture during the Enlightenment.

Honey bees expanded to North America with human-assisted migration during the 17th century. Many Europeans fleeing wars, poverty, land laws or religious persecution brought extensive beekeeping skills to the United States during the next two centuries. Meanwhile, English colonists took bees to New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania, completing human-assisted migration of Apis mellifera around the globe.

Beekeeping became commercially viable during the 19th century with four inventions: the moveable-frame hive, the smoker, the comb foundation maker, and the honey extractor. These inventions still support commercial apiculture. A fifth invention, a queen grafting tool, allows beekeepers to control genetic lines.

Honey bees are such efficient pollinators that industrialized countries developed specialized agriculture dependent upon migratory pollination and one race of honey bee, Apis mellifera. Alarmed at the damage tracheal mites were doing to honey bees in Europe, the United States Congress passed a Honey Bee Restriction Act in 1922, in effect protecting Apis mellifera until tracheal and varroa mites arrived in the 1980s. U.S. beekeepers lost 50-80 percent of their colonies. The ban was partially rescinded in 2004.

Rural economic development programs promote honey bees with mixed results. Honey and wax remain in high demand on global markets, and honey production tasks generate several lines of income. But different honey bee races can clash with pre-existing insect species. In the 1950s, the honey bee Apis mellifera scutellata (one type of African honey bee) was taken to Brazil via human assistance, creating ramifications for the endemic bee species in both South and North America. Similarly, Apis mellifera was introduced to India and China, but it competes with the smaller Apis florae for floral sources.

Honey bees can adapt to minor changes in global warming, but Colony Collapse Disorder is the most recent bittersweet reminder that human society threatens honey bee habitats and breeding patterns on a global scale. Promoting genetic diversity of honey bees and providing safe environments are crucial steps toward future sustainable agriculture.

Dr. Tammy Horn is the author of “Bees in America.”