Pollinating His Own Science

Even a graduate student working on a pressing, real-world problem needs diversions. Noah Wilson-Rich went to the Topsfield agricultural fair, an annual event in Essex County, Massachusetts and was drawn to the Bee House with its observational hives. Local honey was on sale, and apiarists were on hand to talk about what they do. The young entomologist—whose knowledge about insects had so far come largely from textbooks—put his name on the sign-up sheet for a beekeeping course. Before long, he was a certified beekeeper.

Back at Tufts, in the lab of Philip Starks, Wilson-Rich was focused not directly on finding the cause of CCD, but on understanding how honey bee immunity works. A starting point was to develop methods to test bees’ immune function. Because the honey bee genome had just been sequenced, many investigators were using microarrays to look at gene-expression patterns in normal and infected bees. “However, if we look only at gene activation, it is possible to miss post-transcriptional or post-translational modifications,” Wilson-Rich says. So he decided to test for the presence of specific compounds in the blood of bees.

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