UI researchers focus on improving bee health

Researchers are studying how stressors affect honey bees, particularly nutrition, and how providing nutrition to developing bees could help relieve stress.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – In a quiet field outside Bloomington, Indiana University researchers monitor their bees.

“So what we’re looking for right now is the brood and these are the developing larvae,” Audrey Parish, a Ph.D. IU. candidate and researcher said.

On a hot July day, Parish teamed up with Dr. Irene Newton, a professor of microbiology and bioinformatics at Indiana University, on site to monitor the health of their bee colony.

“Oh, look at that collector with the pollen basket,” Parish pointed out, looking at the bees.

Parish and Newton are studying the ways that stressors affect honey bees, especially nutrition, and how providing nutrition to developing bees could help relieve stress.

“We are interested in identifying bee-associated microbes that can act as probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria that you can give to an organism or a human being and that can provide a benefit in any particular context. People have probably heard of probiotics in yogurts that help us with digestion and nutrition, so we like to identify bee-associated microbes that might provide certain benefits and understand how to best provide them in an agricultural setting, “Newton said.

“Imagine you are developing larvae and getting the food your nestmates provide for you, but sadly they don’t have very good resources. They are doing their best to feed you, but you can do so much with the material you have and it is important that you grow strong during this time, ”Parish said. “So what the bacteria in this niche do is turn the food you are getting from your nestmates into something more nutritious so that despite having difficulty with your nutrition, you will still be able to grow and mature in the food. bee you must be. “

Bees are key to getting food from farm to table. The USDA reports that honey bees are behind one in three food bites we take.

But the population has been in severe decline due to the collapse of the colony for decades.

“They are truly the most important agricultural pollinator globally, they are the organisms that pollinate all the important fruits, nuts and vegetables that people love,” Newton said. “So without bees around, we wouldn’t really have those foods available to us in our grocery stores.”

Newton said they are interested in identifying microbes for bees that can act as probiotics for feeding bees and supplying them to them – and have identified one that can help.

“So this organism that we discovered, Bombella apis, is the microbe that is in the digestive tract of the queen. The queen is the most important member of the colony, she is the only member capable of reproducing, she lays all those eggs for Raising the next generation of bees. It is the only one capable of maintaining colony strength and number, so its health and longevity are of paramount importance to the colonies, “Newton said.

There are several strains and varieties of Bombella apis, and their team is working to identify the best ones for providing larvae within these bee colonies, offering early nutrition to reduce stress and help populations.

“Our goal is basically to create a panel of good Bombella isolates that will protect bees from these environmental colonies and help naturally integrate a bee’s resilience,” said Newton.

“It seems like a pretty easy fix,” Parish said. “It’s also so easy that we could give you Bombella apis and you could put it in the sugar water and put that sugar water out of the colony and the workers will bring that sugar water in. The Bombella will become that important niche most likely because they are feeding it to. all the larvae as soon as they receive it “.

“We are very keen to develop this as an intervention for beekeepers,” Newton said. They’ve created a company that can help them commercialize their research so they can use it to help bees not only survive but thrive. “

“Giving them a supplement that will not only improve the health of their colonies but won’t cost them any additional time is quite revolutionary. And it’s something we’re really excited about,” Parish said.

According to Newton, this help for bees will not only impact their critical populations, it could also help our own food supply down the road.

“If we could strengthen and increase bee populations, it would definitely affect the price we pay for our food at the supermarket,” Newton said.

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