At the heart of Project Apis m.’s mission is research: the organization was created as a vehicle to gather donations and fund projects that would make a real difference for growers and beekeepers. Although we have grown and now manage a more complex suite of donors, initiatives and projects, science and research still drive this vehicle. Over the past 10 years, we have raised and distributed over $6.2 million toward practical, applied research projects and forage programs that support commercial honey bee health. That represents over 100 research projects and programs...none of which would have been possible without our panel of Scientific Advisors, who donate their expertise and time to review the many proposals submitted for PAm funding.
I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to each of those individuals and recognize how critical they are to our mission. We could not do this without them! Take a look at this ‘All-Star’ team; familiar faces in our industry: Randy Oliver , Jerry Hayes, Dr. Frank Drummond and Dr. Eric Mussen are industry advocates at PAm to recommend research projects: They bring over a century of combined experience and represent myriad interests and perspectives.
As PAm continues to grow and increase the available funding for research, I also am very excited to add an excellent new Scientific Advisor to the team and welcome Dr. Michelle Flenniken to Project Apis m. Michelle is an Assistant Professor in the Plant Sciences Department at Montana State University, where she investigates honey bee host-pathogen interactions. She is also Co-Director of Montana State University's Pollinator Health Center and the recent recipient of a prestigious NSF CAREER award.
Michelle received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Iowa and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana before obtaining her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Montana State University. She did postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco, with Dr. Raul Andino (and RNA virologist) and collaborated on a honey bee colony monitoring project with Dr. Joe DeRisi, who received funding from PAm in 2008. When she emailed Eric Mussen (small world!) about a research project on RNAi in honey bees, it led to a UC-Davis / Haagen Daz sponsored fellowship that supported her initial independent research on honey bee viruses and the mechanisms of honey bee antiviral defense. In parallel, with Dr. DeRisi and a graduate student in the DeRisi lab (C. Runckel) and Brett Adee (Adee Honey Farms), this team produced one of the first published longitudinal studies of commercial bee colony pathogen prevalence and abundance.
Michelle has been focused on honey bee research ever since. She started her own laboratory at MSU in June 2012 and received support from PAm to support her research on the impact of honey bee viruses on bee health (in general) and to examine potential synergistic effects of viral infections and agrochemical exposure. Shortly thereafter Laura Brutscher, a graduate student in the Flenniken Lab, received the PAm-Costco PhD Fellowship in Honey Bee Biology. Both of these grants from PAm were critical in forming and shaping her successful bee lab and projects. Michelle is a great example of how Project Apis m. leverages donated resources to increase the problem-solving assets for the beekeeping industry, not just with specific projects but also by engaging and supporting developing or ‘non-bee’ scientists who can bring their focus and expertise to our issues. By providing the initial ‘start-up’ funding required for research projects to gain momentum in order to compete for higher dollar federally funded grants, which are needed to address complex biological questions and develop real solutions for beekeepers down the road. In addition to support from Project Apis m., the Flenniken Lab is supported by the National Science Foundation (both NSF Career Award from the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and EPSCoR funds), the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA-AFRI) Program, Montana Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Hatch Multistate Funding (NC-1173), and received some initial lab ‘start up’ support from the National Institutes of Health IDeA Program COBRE grant GM110732, the Montana State Beekeepers Association, Montana State University, and the Montana State University Agricultural Experiment Station.
With an expertise in microbiology, genetics, and virology, Michelle is an excellent addition to our cadre of Science Advisors. We couldn’t be more excited to have her on board and are thankful already that her passion for research drives her to volunteer service to PAm!