For those studying the colony collapse dilemma that continues to affect bee populations around the country, it seems, at least for now, "enigma" remains the buzz-word.

Researchers in the Colony Collapse Disorder field have indicated that various factors - including foreign pathogens, genetics, stress levels, nutrition and pesticides - could be to blame for the problem. But there's still no smoking gun to explain what's become an ongoing scientific mystery.

"Again, we're looking a lot at nutrition" and genetics, said Charlie Vorisek, owner/operator of Vorisek's Backyard Bee Farm in Linesville and a member of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association. "We're not sure what the cause (of the colony collapses) is, but we do know a healthy bee has a healthy immune system."

To keep his bees healthy, Vorisek spreads his hives around different areas to reduce over-foraging and keeps the hives indoors and supplements the bees' food sources with sugar during the winter months. He recently said he's still "in a better situation" than where he was in some recent years.

By the time winter rolled around in 2006, Vorisek said 54 of the total 88 hives he'd been keeping had died off. Having started out last year with only 29 surviving hives, he was able to get back to keeping around 70, each filled with up to 60,000 bees.

"I (personally) have a pretty good survival rate at this point," he said, but "the (commercial) reports I've heard out of Florida and California are pretty bad," with major honey producers in those areas having lost up to 50 percent of their bee populations.

"Those big crops are what end up in our grocery stores," he said, and because of that, "there's a big scare going through the commercial beekeepers now."

Vorisek works closely with other experts and members of the state beekeeping association to stay abreast of regional and national trends, and frequently presents information about beekeeping and related topics to public audiences around the region.

One of the current main "target topics" of discussion and research, he said, is the effects of pesticides on bee populations. There's no conclusive evidence that chemicals are the chief cause of the collapses, he said, but sub-lethal amounts of pesticides that bees may ingest and become disoriented and sickened by are certainly contributing factors.

To put that into perspective, Vorisek said a recent research study showed that 43 different pesticides were identified in a sampling of 92 colonies. The take-home message there, said Vorisek, is that "pesticides are not all agriculture-related. There are a lot of lawn treatments and backyard treatments that people use in high concentrations" that are undoubtedly affecting the bee populations.

Chemical testing alone costs nearly $300 per sample, according to Vorisek, and CCD research has been largely limited to funding from private businesses and personal donations. Additional funds have been proposed in both the state House and Senate versions of the federal Farm Bill, but have yet to be passed, he said.

The Pennsylvania State University Colony Collapse Working Group has set up a program through which individual beekeepers may have sampling done, with the results to be added to the PSU data base (at on the Web).

"With more data, researchers may be able to see a pattern" that could lead to solving the mystery of CCD, said Vorisek.