GWBuzz Visits the USDA Bee Research Lab

Early morning June 4th, the Bee Team ventured out into Beltsville Maryland for some valuable follow-up with the USDA ARS Bee Research Laboratory. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader, generously took some time to show the Bee Team some of the instrumentation of the various USDA laboratories and elaborated on the many investigative research projects the USDA is currently pursuing. Last month, GW had the fortune to host Pettis at one of the weekly Biology Department Lectures, explaining the impact of pesticides on pollinators’ health and populations, particularly of the honey bee. Thankfully, our team talked to Pettis and were graciously offered the chance to visit his lab and team, opening up a dialogue for both teams’ projects. During the tour of the building, the Bee Team was introduced to several members of Pettis’ lab, including Dr. Judy Chen and Dr. Jay Evans, entomologists on the team. We asked questions on topics ranging from pollen variance and bee health to the energetic costs of an increased immune response to pathogens.

The Bee Team aided Pettis and Jonathan M. Leith with about 30 new hives, checking for queen health by examining brood pattern, the presence of eggs, and capped brood. USDA members and Bee Team members replaced queens as needed to increase the likelihood of a successful expansion of the hives. Empty frames not yet drawn by the colonies were exchanged with brooded frames to encourage further growth. Soon their hives will be buzzing and ready for experimentation. The USDA BRL is currently the only lab experimenting with germplasm preservation and the effect of pesticides on honey bee sperm. These experiments will open up new discussions on queen health and possibly help to answer why bee populations are in decline.

The two labs look forward to an exchange of knowledge, and potentially an exchange of bumblebee hives, this summer and into the fall. A volleyball challenge was issued and a potential Bee Team vs. USDA match is in the works – definitely the beginning of a beautiful collaboration!

-Esther Schenau & Brooke Talbot

Photo credit: Katherine Berry

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