By: Dr. Kaira Wagoner, Researcher at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and former PAm-Costco Scholar
My lab may be on the verge of a huge breakthrough – use of brood pheromones to enable precise and rapid selection of Varroa and disease resistant bees - and Project Apis m. (PAm) provided support critical to this success. It started with a Ph.D. project related to hygiene communication. At the time, the focus of the research community seemed to be on hygienic adults – their superior sense of smell and how this enhanced perception was modulated in the honey bee brain. But what exactly was it they were smelling? We decided to find out.
Between brood comb and data spreadsheets, the number of cells I looked at during my Ph.D. was easily in the millions. But with graduate courses to take and undergraduate lab sections to teach, finding time to conduct high quality research was a challenge. The first time PAm stepped in to help was with an award that funded a Research Assistantship, allowing me to focus on my own research during the 20 hours / week I had previously spent as a lab instructor. PAm continued to support my research over the summer, allowing me to dedicate my efforts to field work rather than teaching during the (critical) honey bee season. And it paid off – by graduation, I had identified numerous compounds associated with unhealthy brood, and had demonstrated that these compounds were elevated in brood cells targeted for hygienic uncapping. It was an exciting finding, but it felt more like a beginning than an end - how could we stop now?
Once again, PAm stepped in. We had applied for a large federal grant so that I could continue the work as a post-doc, but the field season was upon us, and there was no word from the granting agency. Combined with support from a local biotech company, PAm funding enabled us to continue our work at a critical stage. With PAm’s support, we began translating fundamental scientific findings into practical solutions that had real potential to benefit beekeepers and improve bee health. We ended up getting the federal grant, which enabled us to continue the work in the long-term, but PAm’s role in bridging that funding gap prevented us from missing a critical field season, advancing our project progress by an entire year.
Eight years, six awards, $178,280. When I think about all I have accomplished with the PAm funding I have received, it’s clear that PAm really knows how to make their dollars stretch. PAm’s awards are modest compared to federal grant funding, but the impact PAm’s funding has had on my career and on the world of honey bees is massive.
The PAm-supported work that I started nearly a decade ago has now evolved into a two-hour pheromone-based test called the Unhealthy Brood Odor (UBO) assay, which measures colony Varroa and disease resistance. A colleague and I recently launched a start-up and received National Science Foundation funding to support commercialization of the technology. Field trials have been completed or are underway in over a dozen apiaries across North America and Europe, and we hope to have a first-generation tool in the hands of beekeepers by the end of 2023. When it comes to honey bee health there are no silver bullets, and adequate control of honey bee pests and diseases is still a long way off. However, thanks to research support like that from PAm, I am confident in the efficacy and imminence of honey bee health solutions to come.