Posted on 22/07/2010
Academics from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London have been awarded two separate grants of up to £3million to explore the causes and consequences of threats to insect pollinators and to ask questions about the decline of bees.
The first project, ‘The impact and mitigation of emergent disease on major UK insect pollinators’, is being carried out by Dr Mark Brown and Professor Vincent Jansen from Royal Holloway in partnership with Dr Robert Paxton from Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Juliet Osborne from Rothamsted Research.
The three-year project will focus on diseases caused by Deformed Wing Virus and a fungus-like microorganism called Nosema Ceranae. These are among the most serious diseases that affect honeybees and have recently been found to infect some bumblebees as well. Using laboratory and field experiments, including radar tracking of individual flying bees, researchers will investigate the direct impact of both diseases on honeybees and bumblebees.
The team will also test two new methods to control the microorganisms that cause such diseases based on probiotic bacteria and RNA interference technology. New ways of controlling bee diseases will be of immediate benefit to the pollinator industry and hobby beekeepers in ensuring sustainable pollination in the UK.
Dr Brown said: “Honey bees and bumble bees are essential pollinators of wild plants and crops, but they are in dramatic decline across the world. One of the major threats to honey bees and bumble bees is the impact of new and emerging parasites and disease. This research will help us to understand how parasites threaten bee populations and how we can cure bees so that we have them, and the pollination service that they provide, for the foreseeable future."
The second project is being carried out by Dr Nigel Raine from Royal Holloway in partnership with Dr Chris Connolly and Dr Jenni Harvey from the University of Dundee, Dr Geraldine Wright from the University of Newcastle and Professor Neil Millar from UCL. It will look at how the learning capacity and performance of bees is affected by exposure to industrial chemicals, such as pesticides.
Many insecticides work by interfering with information flow in the brains of insects - either increasing or decreasing their brain activity. Dr Raine and his colleagues will look at whether chronic exposure to chemicals used to control mites, combined with levels of agricultural pesticides that are not lethal but could be damaging, are affecting foraging, navigation and communication in honeybees and bumblebees.
The researchers will assess the bees' performance using radio tagging of individual bees and assessment of specific learning tasks. They will also study the brain cells of bees in the laboratory to monitor the effects of pesticides and to understand the molecular basis of learning and memory in bees. The researchers will attempt to produce the first ever honeybee cell line to facilitate future pesticide screening.
The announcement of the two grants for research by Royal Holloway academics this week coincides with National Insect Week, and is part of nine projects being funded by Insect Pollinators Initiative - totalling £10million.
The Insect Pollinators Initiative is a joint initiative from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Natural Environment Research Council, The Scottish Government and The Wellcome Trust, and is funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership