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Save the bee, save the world

USDA to fund Fort Lewis College honey bee research

Dr. Bill Collins
Dr. Bill Collins

It is amazing how the smallest of things can have such an enormous impact. Such is the case with honey bees, along with other pollinating animals. Most people probably barely notice the honey bee as it buzzes about its business, but a threat to the honey bee is a threat to us all.

Honey bee populations have been dying off for decades from a number of causes from parasites to environmental changes. Why should humans care? Consider the fact that more than a third of the crop production in the United States relies on pollination to grow. Imagine the grocery store shelves if flowering vegetables, berries, nuts and all the things these ingredients produce were lost.

Fort Lewis College (FLC) Associate Professor of Chemistry Bill Collins and his students are hard at work trying to better understand and combat honey bee die-offs. To aid in this work, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded Fort Lewis College just over $103,000 in research funding.

Dr. Collins will be joining Dr. Sara Leonhardt, a researcher at the University of Würzburg, Germany, in studying propolis, a natural substance produced by bees. Dr. Leonhardt’s research showed that propolis has an impact on bee health and she and Dr. Collins will work to identify the molecules within propolis with health benefits. Once the molecules are discovered, the end goal is to create a therapy available to beekeepers to help maintain the health of their hives.

Unlike larger institutions where the prime research opportunities are reserved for graduate students, Dr. Collins looks for ways to involve his undergraduate students in his work. Students help maintain the research apiary (beehive) on campus, for example. In the lab, students are synthesizing various molecules and testing their effectiveness against another honey bee adversary, the Varroa mite. 

“Everything I do has got students,” Dr. Collins said in a recent FLC story. “I think the most exciting part at Fort Lewis is getting students excited, exposing students to what real research is. Some students think research is kind of like a class. But it’s much more open ended than that. There are no necessarily right answers. There’s a lot of failure. But getting people really excited about getting into science and doing research is easily the most important part of what I do.”

Learn more about studying chemistry at Fort Lewis College at www.fortlewis.edu/chemistry

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