Willi Kastenauer is not at all lazy.

There we were – our project idea had been chosen and now we had to plan how we would carry it out. Since our project is mainly about bees, it was clear to us that we needed to learn as much as we could about them. For this, we went in search of someone who knows about bees and their way of life. Who could be better for the job than a beekeeper?

So, we chose Willi Kastenauer, the Chair of the Regional Association for Beekeeping and Bee Breeding in Salzburg. He was more than happy to present us with a report on bees, along with some useful materials for us to look at.

Now we knew all about the victim—the bee.

Now we just had to inform ourselves about the perpetrator—the virus. For that, we asked Dr. Norbert Nowotny, virologist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Vienna, Clinical Virology Group, if he would be so kind as to explain the different types of bee viruses to us. He, too, came to our school and gave an exciting presentation as well as his cooperation and support for our project.

We had finally been informed about all the things we would need to carry out our project. We stood fully equipped at the starting line and drafted our first plans.

Our team was divided into six groups—so-called

“task forces”—each of us responsible for a different task.

Three of the task forces – Task Force: General Bee, Task Force: Local Viruses and Task Force: IAPV-CCD – began with online research.

All Task Forces, regardless of task, donated their time to collecting bee samples from all over Austria. Because there are students at our school from all over Austria, accomplishing this was not difficult. Because this assignment was completed in the winter, we couldn’t simply go out and catch the bees in the open, so we asked some beekeepers if we could take some bees from their hives. We especially made it a point to take bees from sick hives that showed any signs of weakness or hives that had been heavily infested with varroa mites.

All the team members were glad to help, so it didn’t take long until we had gathered enough samples. The samples were precisely catalogued and labeled according to where and on what day they had been collected, the beekeeper, symptoms, and any other comments that were deemed important.

The fifth Task Force was responsible for the lab work. Our test had to be thought out and prepared for down to the letter since our microbiological test to prove any signs of virus in the bees had been devised by us and had never been done in Austria up to that point.

Is our idea going to work?

We had to watch for a few things because our chemical analysis was supposed to be aimed at finding IAPV and not its close relative, APV, which has been found in Austria for the last several years. Also, the virus we were seeking out is an RNA virus, meaning it has a single-stranded genetic makeup and is therefore very sensitive and couldn’t be damaged in any way. Due to this fact, we immediately froze the bee samples.

Task Force: Public Relations was responsible for taking the many photos throughout the course of our project. These were especially important for our report, since we needed a lot of photos so we could choose the best ones to be included later in our final report.

It was also this part of the team’s duty to come up with a title for our project. This was definitely one of the most important, most difficult, and most time-consuming assignments. But we finally took care of that, too, as everyone was finally satisfied with “Lively Bees – Nasty Disease.”

In the middle of our intensive work, we encountered our first problem. Since CCD had caused such major problems in America, it was impossible for us to import the virus or a dead bee to use as a positive test sample. The danger of possibly bringing the virus to Europe was too great, but we needed a positive sample to see if our test even worked. If we were to find nothing, it was possible that our test did not work properly, but without a positive control, we were out of luck.

We were close to calling the project off when we received help from the University of Vienna, which provided us with non-harmful cDNA (transcribed RNA) of the virus directly from a research institute in Israel.
Now all our preparation had been taken care of, our contacts had been collected, the bees were ready to be examined and our strategy was clear.

We were all excited and confident. The examining could begin…