Thursday, 26 August 2010

CATCH THE BUZZ - Scientist Of The Week



Scientist of the Week: Dennis vanEngelsdorp

Laboratory Equipment magazine features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is Dennis vanEngelsdorp from Penn State Univ. vanEngelsdorp has been tracing and researching the rapid decline of honeybee colonies, a problem he says has heavy implications as bees are intrinsically linked to our environment, as well as our food supply.

Q: What made you research bees?
A: It goes back to when I was an undergraduate student actually. I took a bee keeping course as an elective. There is a saying in the bee world, “once you get stung by a bee, it’s in your blood and you are in for life.” That turned out true for me. They are such a fascinated species, I am just fascinated by them.

Q: As of now, what do you think the future of bees and pollinators are?
A: I do not think they are going to go extinct. Commercial beekeepers, who own half the population of bees, are trucking them up and down the coast to pollinate and the beekeepers have been losing a lot of colonies for four years now. I worry that they can’t keep it going, especially financially. I think it is their love of bees that only keeps them going.

Q: What was the most surprising area of your research?
A: The most surprising thing of the CCD (colony collapse disorder) research that came up was in that first year- when we were mapping we thought we would find one clear cut cause of CCD and then be able to find a solution. That was naïve. Our work has highlighted that a lot of different things stress and kill bees. There is a segment killed by CCD, but there is a lot of colony mortality going on in general. That was a reminder that everything is so interrelated- and so complicated. That means the solution is going to be complicated, too.

Q: What is the “take home” message of your research and results?
A: Three are three messages: 1.) Honeybees are vital if we want to continue producing fruits and vegetables. 2.) A lot of different environments factors stress bees. Bees are an indicator species, they are a keystone. There is a lot of environmental studies going on in that department now. 3.) It is so complicated. There are a lot of different factors causing bee mortality. Here, the general public can help. We have seen a swell in public interest, and from the corporate side as well. The public can do a lot of things to help. Buy local honey, bee a bee keeper, plant a garden, have room in your environment for pollination. There are thousands of bee species in this country, not just honeybees, and we need to have room for them as well.

Q: What is next for you and your research?
A: A lot of academic research has been going on now. We are conducting autopsies on the bees looking for new organisms associated with honeybees. We thought we would be looking for diseases in the bees, but now we are particularly interested in the organisms associated with the species.

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