Honey Bee Biology Laboratory Annual Report

Zachary Huang, Assistant Professor


Time flies and Zachary's honey bee program is nearly three years old. Several lines of research are now going on in our lab (very different, but bees are the theme). One fateful Saturday in March of 2000 Zachary came up with the idea of using electricity to heat up a drone comb to kill the varroa mites, by far the largest pest in honey bees. This device is now called the Spartan Mitezapper and Michigan State University has applied for a patent on it. Lab studies showed that it can cause a 100% mortality to the mites on drone pupae and we are now trying to conduct field trials to see if colonies can winter without using any chemicals with the help of the device. To learn more about how this device work, check out the website http://www.mitezapper.com.

Left to Right: Ray Wang, Zachary Huang, Laurent Clauda, Anne Hanley, Emily Jackson, Errol Mathews, Sandie Michalek, Priya Krishnamurti, Ron Lin.

Our lab continues to collaborate with Ke Dong's lab in studying the sodium channel of the varroa mite. So far we have successfully sequenced the full length gene and are looking for mutations that might be responsible for the resistance mites developed against fluvalinate. Postdoctoral associate Dr. Ruiwu ("Ray") Wang started this project March 1999 and this is nearing its end. Ray has accepted a postdoctoral position in Canada to continue his research interest in ion channels. This time he will study the calcium channel, tentatively he plans to depart on October 1st.

The USDA-supported Nosema study is also wrapping up after 2 years by postdocoral associate Dr. Ron Lin. Ron has discovered that Nosema, a protozoan parasite of honey bees, can cause higher rates of juvenile hormone biosynthesis in workers, thus causing them to become foragers earlier. Strangely, workers with their corpora allata removed, thus lacking the ability to synthesize any juvenile hormone at all, still foraged earlier when infected with Nosema. These results suggest that Nosema might cause behavioral changes in bees through several different physiological pathways. Ron's study was assisted by two undergraduate students Lauren Clauda and Emily Jackson, and two high school students. Priya Krishnamurti was a High School Honors Science Program (HSHSP), and came all the way from New York city. Errol Matthews, from Benton Harbor, was a student supported by the MSU Minority Apprenticeship Program (MAP).

A new research project was started this summer to look into the role melatonin might play in honey bee social behavior. Being highly energetic, Ron is also in charge of the experiments in this research, supported by a MSU Intramural Research Grant Program (IRGP). A former postdoctor, Dr. Ronglin Yu helped collecting the preliminary data on this project. He returned to beekeeping in Canada after a six month stay here. We have found that young bees ("nurses") have low and unchanging levels of melatonin but foragers have high melatonin levels that also change with time. This is fascinating because melatonin is the "sleep" hormone in nearly all animals and we know nurses do not sleep at all and work around the clock. I guess next we should test if by eliminating melatonin in our own system we can work around the clock like nurses (without any adverse effects) :) Any others want to join in this project besides myself?

We are also evaluating effects of transgenic pollen on the development and physiology of honey bees. Anne Hanley, a MSc student started this project the summer of 2000. So far we have not found any adverse effects on bees by canola pollen in a field study conducted in Canada, nor by corn pollen under semi-field conditions in a study conducted here. This is a joint effort with Dr. Walt Pett who obtained funding from GREEEN.

Dr. Joerg Schmidt-Bailey left for an extenstion job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in March. The beekeeping duties has been handled by a local beekeeper, Sandra Michelak. She has been doing a wonderful job in keeping the bees healthy, helping with experiments and keeping the bee building sparkling clean. She loves bees so much that she recruits her daughters (Rebecca and Jenny) for help when times are too beesy for her to handle.

Zachary Huang continues his efforts on various web projects. Another MAP student Sowkya Rangarajan added an excellent children's section to the cyerbee site (see http://www.cyberbee.net/kids). Zachary also obtained some GREEEN funding to build a webbased database of beekeepers who provides pollination services. This would enable county extension agents to look up easily which beekeepers are in their area (searchable by zip, area code or county names). The new site (beebase.cyberbee.net) should be in working condition soon to provide the service. A site that receives no funding but is very popular, is one that features many pictures of various people eating insects (Wanna be bug-eating famous? Send me photos of you eating strange bugs!). Check it out at http://eat.bees.net.

International Travel:

For the third year in a row, Zachary visited China again this past May. Finally he was able to find some Varroa mites on the Asian bees (Apis cerana) at Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province. This project was supported by USDA in trying to determine the mechanisms through which the Asian bees are resistant to the dreadful varroa mites. He is invited by the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden next year to study the bees there as a senior visiting scientist. He also accepted an invitation to be a Guest Professor at the China Agricultural University (formally Beijing Agricultural University) during the trip. Zachary also participates in an international group of social insect biologists at Santa Fe Institute. This "Working Group" gets together once a year and tries to integrate organizational concepts of neurobiology, behavior, and social biology. For more information about the purpose and participants of the working group, I have built (yet another!) website that you can visit (http://sfi.cyberbee.net).

Publications in 2001 (numbered articles indicate refereed journal):

26. Pearce, A.N., Z.Y. Huang & M.D. Breed. 2001. Juvenile hormone and aggression in honey bees. Journal of Insect Physiology 47: 1243-1247 [pdf]

27. Beshers, S.N., Z.Y. Huang, Y. Oono & G.E. Robinson. 2001. Social inhibition and the regulation of temporal polyethism in honey bees. Journal of Theoretical Biology 213: 461-479 [pdf]

Huang, Z.Y., H.O. Kuang, B.Y. Kuang & Y. Qin. 2001. Juvenile hormone and division of labor in Apis cerana. Proceedings of 7th International Bee Research Association Conference and Asian Apicultural Association Conference, Thailand, 2000. Journal of Apicultural Research 40 (supplement): 3-6 54. [pdf]

Zhou, T., J. Yao, S.X. Huang & Z.Y. Huang. 2001. Larger cell size reduces varroa mite reproduction. Proceedings of the American Bee Research Conference, American Bee Journal 141: 895-896

Huang, Z.Y. & H. Lin. 2001. The small hive beetle a new pest of honey bees in the United States. Newsletter of the Michigan Entomological Society 46: 5, 8

Huang, Z.Y. 2001. MiteZapper - a new and effective method for varroa mite control. American Bee Journal. 141: 730-732 [pdf]

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