Researchers studying diversity of microbes that live in bee guts
It is 1,825 miles from New Haven, Conn., to Austin, Tex., which typically means 30 hours of driving and three nights in motels, not an easy trip for anyone. But for researchers moving from Yale University to a new lab at the University of Texas last August, it proved especially challenging. They made the journey in a minivan with a pet cat and 100,000 bees.
"That was probably the most heroic event in our beekeeping saga to date," says evolutionary biologist Nancy Moran, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies symbiosis, particularly among multi-cellular hosts and microbes. "We didn't want to be without bees upon arrival in Texas, and it wasn't a good time of year to start new colonies."
Kim Hammond, University of Texas at AustinMembers of a Bombus impatiens (bumblebee) colony within the nest. These insects share specialized gut bacteria, which are transmitted among colony members. The bees -- chauffeured by graduate student Waldan Kwong and postdoctoral fellow Gordon Bennett -- traveled in boxes nailed shut, with duct tape over the cracks between the boxes, so they couldn't fly around in the minivan, and wire mesh over the front, so they could cool themselves, but not escape. They also received wet sponges at regular intervals to keep them hydrated.
"They [Kwong and Bennett] just turned up the air conditioning all the way, and wore sweaters," Moran says. "Bees are less excitable when it's cooler. At night, they waited to park the minivan until after dark, and then opened the windows so the bees didn't overheat in the closed space. It seemed unlikely that anyone would try to steal something from a van full of bees."
The bees arrived in Austin with no problems, and now live on top of a building on campus, "where their main forage might be drops of soda on discarded cans around campus," says Moran, who for many years studied the maternally transmitted symbionts of aphids and other sap-feeding insects, but has expanded in recent years to bees. Symbionts are organisms that co-exist and depend on each other for survival.
"I've worked for many years on genomic evolution in bacteria, but also love insects and insect biology," she says. "So this is a system that has both."
click image to zoomKim Hammond, University of Texas at AustinWaldan Kwong (doctoral student) and Amanda Mancenido (undergraduate student) are working on the genomics and diversity of bacteria living in guts of honeybees and bumblebees. Understanding the gut microbes in bees
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