Fort Lewis College professor gets $100k to study bee die-offs

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 11:00 PM
Associate Professor of Chemistry Bill Collins, left, and his students work at the Fort Lewis College research beehive.

Fort Lewis College associate professor of chemistry Bill Collins has been awarded $103,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study and combat honeybee die-offs.

Collins and his students are trying to better understand and prevent die-offs among honeybee populations.

To aid in this work, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded FLC just over $103,000 in research funding.

Collins will join Sara Leonhardt, a researcher at the University of Würzburg, Germany, to study propolis, a natural substance produced by bees.

Leonhardt’s research showed propolis has an impact on bee health. Leonhardt and 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 healthy hives.

Honeybee populations have been dying off for decades from a number of causes ranging from parasites to environmental changes.

More than a third of crop production in the United States relies on pollination to grow.

Often, prime research opportunities are reserved for graduate students, but Collins looks for ways to involve his undergraduates. Students help maintain the research beehive on campus.

In the lab, students are synthesizing various molecules and testing their effectiveness against another honeybee adversary, the varroa mite.

“Everything I do has got students,” Collins said in an informational article recently published by FLC. “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.”