Domesticated honeybees (Apis mellifera) are important for world food security because of the pollination services they provide to crops. Honeybee colonies are purchased or hired to pollinate fruits and vegetables at a cost of millions of pounds annually. Honeybees feed themselves by collecting and storing floral nectar and pollen. One of the greatest challenges beekeepers face in agro-ecosystems is finding habitat for their colonies that has sufficient sources of floral pollen. Pollen provides protein, fats, carbohydrates, sterols, and other micronutrients. When pollen is unavailable, it has become common practice of commercial beekeepers to use ‘pollen substitutes’ as a form of bee food. However, research from Wright’s lab has identified that commercially-produced pollen substitutes are missing key nutrients.
Preliminary research in our labs has identified that certain species of marine macroalgae contain some of the rare nutrients found in pollen. Several companies in the UK and Europe now harvest seaweed for use as fertilizer, biofuel, and human and animal nutrition. One company based in Ireland (Hive Alive) is already marketing an extract of bladderwrack (Asconodum sp) as a health supplement for bees. It might be possible to use other species of seaweed as a food supplement for honeybees but the full nutritional benefits to honeybees of marine macroalgal extracts, however, are unknown. In addition, it might be possible to engineer micro-organisms to produce the key nutrients that bees need.
This project will identify ways to produce or extract key nutrients bees need for their diet that are not currently available in the global food market. The work will involve learning to extract and identify key nutrients in plants and macroalgae. The work may also involve using systems biology approaches to engineer micro-organisms to produce key nutrients. The student will test extracts and nutrients in feeding experiments with bees in the laboratory and in the field alongside an experienced team of scientists and beekeepers. The student will learn to conduct feeding bioassays and measurements of bee health that include hypopharyngeal gland development, Varroa mite infestation, and incidence of Deformed Wing Virus.
Aim 1: To extract critical missing nutrients from plant, macroalgae and other sources
Aim 2: To develop methods for creating key nutrients using systems biology approaches
Aim 3: To test extracts and compounds on honeybee colony brood production, health and longevity
The student will work in London at the Jodrell Laboratory at Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew) for a portion of the first year of the fellowship. They will visit the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences laboratories in Oban, Scotland, to work with our industrial partners during the second year. As part of the research, the student will also join members of the university spin-out company, Apix Nutrition, to perform field trials of foods for bees in Europe and the USA. The research program will position the candidate for a role within the new spin-out company or for an academic career in chemical ecology.
Attributes of suitable applicants: Please note any skills or qualifications you are seeking in a prospective applicant, e.g. academic background, driving licence, specific research skills or interests.
This project will require candidates to learn and routinely use chromatographic techniques such as GC-MS. Ideal candidates for this PhD studentship will have a 1st or 2.1 BSc in chemistry, biochemistry, or biology. Chemists should have with an interest in industrial applications to biology and biologists must have a strong interest in phytochemistry or systems biology and good skills in statistical methods. Willingness to work together with a team of scientists is essential.
As part of the project, the student will be required to routinely work with honeybees in a laboratory and a field setting (training will be provided). Candidates allergic to bee stings would be required to undergo desensitization therapy prior to their work.
Candidates will also have to be willing and able to travel for extended periods. A large portion of the first year will require the candidate to work at RBGE Kew in London. The candidate will also spend time working at SAMS in Scotland and working abroad in Europe and the USA to perform field trials.
How to apply:
If you are interested in applying for a BBSRC iCASE studentship please contact the named supervisor, Jeri Wright ([email protected]
) for further information and to determine whether they would encourage you to apply. Applicants who wish to apply for a BBSRC iCASE studentship should make an enquiry to the Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP via [email protected]
for advice on making a full and formal application to the University.