Sammarco looks for ways to improve honey bee disease resistance

Ben Sammarco's hands at the bee hiveBen Sammarco is a junior insect ecology and conservation major from Colts Neck, New Jersey. UDaily connected with Sammarco down on the UD farm in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Q: What are you studying, where and with whom? 

Sammarco: I am studying the effect of honey bee brood mixing on disease resistance and stress tolerance in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Apicology Lab with Deborah Delaney, associate professor of entomology.

Q: What inspired this project and what interests you most about this topic?

Sammarco: Honey bees are critical to the pollination of many crops, such as apples, melons, cherries, blueberries and almonds. They also help to pollinate decorative plants in yards and gardens in areas where human activity has killed off the majority of the native pollinators. Without bees, many crop and garden plant species would die off, so it has become critical to maintain our honeybee populations. Part of the reason they are under threat is that we have spread them far across the country for use in agriculture and, under the stress, several diseases and parasites have begun attacking populations, such as bacterial brood infections or the Varroa mite. 

This project is an offshoot of one of the lab’s main projects involving the use of artificial insemination to increase the genetic diversity of workers in a hive. Hives that have more genetic diversity have a greater chance of resisting disease, so our brood mixing project seeks to artificially raise the diversity of our hives to improve their resilience. Genetic diversity in this case refers to how many different variations of genes the worker population of a hive has encoded in their DNA. I’m interested in the potential to make a significant difference in the health of a set of hives with a simple technique that mimic the benefits of expensive processes using a simpler, more accessible method that a beekeeper could implement on their own.

Read the full interview on UDaily