What could super bugs, bees, and trees have in common? That the human, plant, and animal world are suffering hugely and exacting losses is a good place to begin. Not only are these living families of life dying in unprecedented numbers, in each case a super bug of one sort or another has been identified as the causal agent.
Among humans MRSA has been in the news. In the plant world the mighty oaks are not so mighty anymore, and in the animal world our favorite insect, the honeybee, is rapidly declining.
Bacterial Leaf Scorch (BLS), the disease that is killing members of the red oak family in unprecedented numbers, is caused by a bacterium run amok, as is MRSA in humans. Colony Collapse Disorder, a syndrome resulting in the demise of countless honeybees, is believed to be caused by a super bug of a viral nature.
There are many corollaries underlying these losses. The super bug causing MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, appears to be a new strain of a once innocuous staph bacterium. The one causing BLS, Xylella fastidiosa, has always been present in the environment and only recently developed into a devastating and killing force. The red oak family, which includes the beloved pin oak and other landscape favorites, is fully involved in this pernicious taking of life; and it is the belief of arborists worldwide that that the white oaks, sycamores, and maples are not far behind. As for the honeybees, how could a microscopic virus so quickly gain an upper hand over such a common and giving bee? To date this remains a mystery entomologists are working hard to unravel. While it is true that honeybees have struggled for some time with various environmental challenges, this pathogen is causing catastrophic losses far exceeding anyone’s expectations.
In a relatively short period of time MRSA has surpassed the AIDS virus (another super bug) as an American life-taker. This past year AIDS claimed approximately twelve and a half thousand American lives, while MRSA is estimated to have claimed upwards of nineteen thousand. How could such a recently passive bacterium become one of the most invasive pathogens out there?
A few short years ago BLS was thought to be a slow moving disease with little chance of contagion. Now it is clearly a tree reaper with untold future consequences.
MRSA has been shown to be resistant to treatment with many common antibiotics and is only responsive to the most exotic and powerful in our medicinal arsenal. BLS similarly needs a specialized antibiotic treatment (oxytetracycline), but in the case of our trees this is only a disease management tool, not a cure.