URSP Student Mitra Kashani Investigates Temporal Patterns of Pathogen Prevalence Across Species of Queen Bumble Bees
The aim of my research project is to investigate temporal patterns of pathogen prevalence across various species of queen bumble bees found in the eastern United States. Bumble bees are crucial pollinators that uphold global economies, agriculture, and ecosystems, so undertaking this project was very important to me as someone who is deeply passionate about ecological sustainability. I am even more interested in my project since it is specifically looking at pathogen prevalence in queen bees, since queen bees play a vital role in overall colony health. Queen bumble bees are involved in foraging and pollination of flowering plants, and can be more susceptible to encountering environmental diseases that may be spread to worker bees and can reduce colony survival. My research will be addressing prevalence of the fungal disease Nosema bombi in queen bumble bees of four species: B. fervidus, B. bimaculatus, B. impatiens, and B. griseocollis. Recent studies indicate that bumble bee species with less stable population counts, such as Bombus fervidus and Bombus bimaculatus, are most at risk for carrying such pathogens. In my lab, I am screening about 60 bees from across the four species, each collected from a unique location in Virginia. I am looking for the Nosema pathogen using Nosema fungal ITS (internal transcribed spacer) primers of the 16s rRNA region. I begin my work by extracting the DNA from each sample. Using that DNA, I conduct PCR (polymerase chain reaction) on the set of samples to amplify the DNA, and use the aforementioned primers that are specific for the pathogen I am trying to detect (Nosema bombi). I subsequently run the PCR DNA on an agarose gel via gel electrophoresis, which will indicate whether the Nosema bombi pathogen is present in my sample. So far, I have discovered that of the bees I have tested, all of the Nosema bombi I have detected has been in the B. fervidus species. This may change however as my research continues. In the long run, I hope this project can serve as a stepping stone for me pursuing a PhD in microbial disease ecology.