Honey Bee Research leads to Prestigious NSF Grant

October 9, 2018 By David Meany
Close up of bees on a honeycomb

An Eastern Washington University biology instructor exploring ways to protect one of nature’s most important pollinators, the honey bee, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Assistant Professor Jenifer Walke, whose research interest is focused on studying beneficial bacteria in the guts of bees, is receiving $208,415 over four years from the NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Bioscience (MCB), Systems and Synthetic Biology program. Walke will be collaborating with researchers from Virginia Tech as part of an overall NSF grant of $958,415.

“We are investigating interactions among honey bees, their symbiotic gut microbes, and pathogens that can affect their health,” said Walke. “We want to test if certain bacteria that live in honey bees can be beneficial to their health by protecting them from disease and other threats, such as pesticides.”

In explaining the research, Walke points out that all animals contain complex communities of bacteria and other microbes, known collectively as the microbiome. These microbes perform many important functions for their host, including defense against infection by parasites and pathogens. By studying these complex interactions in honey bees, her research could ultimately provide important insight on how we might be able to manipulate the microbiome of humans to improve health.

As part of the grant, Walke and her team will develop a computer science and biology-based outreach module for elementary school students. Teachers and students will be guided through the process of building and coding computers, which will then be used for student-driven projects based on the research datasets.

Walke’s work with honey bees on the Eastern campus has been featured in The Inlander and you can learn more about her work at walkelab.com.