小黄书

Honeybee researcher at 小黄书 works to understand disease threatening pollinators, specialty crops

Contact: Meg Henderson

Priyadarshini Basu investigates a hive.
Priyadarshini Basu investigates a hive. (Photo by Ramesh Sagili, Oregon State University)

STARKVILLE, Miss.鈥擳iny but mighty, the humble honeybee carries the weight of the world鈥檚 enormous agricultural system on its delicate wings. However, the bacterium Melissococcus plutonius, commonly known as the causative agent for the European foulbrood disease, or EFB, threatens the lives of these industrious insects and health of the crops they pollinate鈥攎ost notably blueberries.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the U.S. each year, including more than 130 types of fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Priyadarshini 鈥淧riya鈥 Chakrabarti Basu, assistant professor in Mississippi State鈥檚 Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, is investigating the causes of and proposing solutions to mitigate EFB鈥檚 spread and impacts.

鈥淪urveys reported that nearly half of commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S. died last year,鈥 said Basu, who is also a scientist in the university鈥檚 Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. 鈥淎lthough EFB is just one of many factors that threaten our colonies, its impact on beekeepers and crop producers is keenly felt as pollination and production costs rise, and those increases are passed on to consumers. The health of our bees affects all of us.鈥

She explained that for many years, beekeepers across the U.S. and Canada have reported EFB in their colonies, specifically those going to blueberry pollination, and they鈥檝e become increasingly hesitant to send their bees to blueberry production.

The four-year, $4.2 million study鈥攑art of a USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative to support these specialized ag industries鈥攊s led by Ramesh Sagili, associate professor of apiculture at Oregon State University. Scientists from Washington and California are joining Sagili and Basu to conduct a two-year field study seasonally rotating a series of honeybee colonies among blueberries and other crops in each participating state. During each rotation, the team will investigate the effects of crops, weather conditions, nutritional landscape, fungicides and other environmental factors contributing to EFB. They also will study the effectiveness of probiotics as a treatment.

Following the field work, the team will conduct an economic impact study of EFB on the blueberry production industry, providing a larger context to their discoveries about the nature of the disease. By the end of the four-year period, their findings and management strategies will be published in a variety of scientific journals, stakeholder publications and media outlets.

To begin, the bee colonies in the Western states will start their journey in the early spring from California almond tree groves. From there, they will travel to blueberry farms and then rotate to later-season crops such as fruit trees for the remainder of the year. In Mississippi, the colonies are taking a slightly different path that complements the different climate and growing seasons in the South. All colonies will replicate their rotations for a second year.

鈥淲e鈥檙e conducting the study this way because EFB can be very unpredictable鈥攕ome years are very bad, but there are also years where cases are very low,鈥 said Basu.

Her part in the study deals with a different blueberry variety and slightly different rotational schedule. While the Western states are looking at northern highbush blueberries, Mississippi鈥檚 most prevalent variety is rabbiteye, which is more conducive to a warmer, humid climate and blooms earlier in the year. The Mississippi bees will rotate to honey production for the rest of the year instead of moving on to pollinate other production crops.

Assisting with the project are Bound鈥檚 Blueberry Farm in Wiggins, which operates a large production of rabbiteye blueberries, and three Mississippi beekeepers who have donated colonies to the project: Austin Smith of Petal and Steven and Richard Coy of Stone County.

鈥淎s a commercial beekeeper, I am very interested in this research and collaborating with Dr. Basu and her team,鈥 said Richard Coy. 鈥淏eekeepers work hard to maintain our colonies, and we all benefit from research that gives us more knowledge and tools to keep our bees healthy.鈥澛

In addition to the site work, Basu is guiding her graduate student Mckaela Whilden of Bryan, Texas in conducting molecular work鈥攅valuating the nutritional quality of the pollen samples collected from the cropping systems across all four states and examining the nutritional physiology of the honeybees from all experimental colonies across all states.

鈥淲e want to learn whether nutritional stress, or not getting enough nutrients from the landscape, is a factor in contracting EFB,鈥 she said. 鈥淲e鈥檙e also studying the expression of some key genes, which may tell us more about the nutritional physiology of the colonies.鈥

For more information on the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, visit .

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