Better Nutrition Helps Bees Mitigate Pathogen Presence, OSU Study Finds

Capital Press   By Eric Mortensen   February 25, 2106
An OSU study on bee nutrition produced a surprising result.

CORVALLIS. Ore. — Ramesh Sagili, Oregon State University’s honeybee researcher, has long believed nutrition is key to fighting off colony collapse disorder, the mysterious ailment that wipes out hives and threatens crop pollination.

So when he and graduate student Cameron Jack carried out a study in which sets of bees were given various levels and a variety of pollen, they expected a logical result. They assumed the bees that received the most wildflower pollen — a source of protein — would be best able to stave off parasites that weaken bees.

That turned out to be true: Bees fed a high-pollen diet had a higher survival rate. But, surprisingly, they also had higher rates of a pathogen called Nosema ceranae — the opposite of what the researchers expected. They thought better-fed bees would have lower infection rates.

“Even though (Nosema) spore intensities were higher in bees that received more pollen in their diet, the bees in these treatments had greater survival, which appears to be counterintuitive,” the researchers said in a study published in Journal of Insect Physiology.

Better nutrition, they concluded, allowed the bees to compensate for the effect of the pathogens. They survived longer, and examination showed they had higher levels of protein in the head glands that produce food for larvae.

Sagili said the study raises questions about the use of antibiotics, used by many beekeepers to control the Nosema pathogen. Broad-spectrum antibiotics may be causing other problems for bees, such as disrupting the gut structure that helps them digest food.

Sagili said beekeepers have asked him whether they should stop using antibiotics, and he urges a cautious approach. Large-scale keepers, who transport thousands of hives to pollinate crops up and down the West Coast, can’t afford the risk of halting antibiotic use all at once. He suggests trying it with 5 percent or 10 percent of hives and monitoring what happens.

Many observers worry a mono-crop diet may weaken bees as they feed on only one crop at a time while doing their pollination work each year, beginning with almonds orchards in California and working north as other nuts, fruit and berries come into season. Sagili said a “polyfloral” diet provides better nutrition for bees; some keepers give bees a break from mono-crop work to forage naturally and add variety to their diet.

The research work at OSU began in June 2014. Bees for the study were taken from “sister queen” colonies to control any variation in Nosema infection that might be attributed to genetics of the bees. They were divided into five groups, fed varying amounts of wildflower pollen, then exposed to the Nosema pathogen. 

The Perilous Life of a Professional Honeybee

KLCC 89.7    By Cassandra Profita   August 18, 2014

The death and disappearance of  bees is raising questions and concerns from Northwest neighborhoods all the way up to the White House. Some attribute bee declines to the use of certain pesticides – especially after chemicals killed thousands of bees in Oregon. But as EarthFix reporter Cassandra Profita explains, researchers are still trying to determine how much of the nation’s bee problem stems from pesticide exposure.

Beekeeper George Hansen just got some good news...

Read more and Listen to Radio Broadcast:

Pesticide Information Center

CATCH THE BUZZ    By Kim Flottum    June 3, 2014

US National Pesticide Center beefs up mobile presence

People with questions about using pesticides correctly now can get answers on their smartphones and tablets, thanks to expanded online services offered by the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at Oregon State University.

The center, which operates a national hotline, is growing its fleet of mobile apps, interactive content, video tutorials, and webinars for the medical community and state and federal regulators.

The efforts are funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.The NPIC has also launched four mobile-friendly apps. The most popular, the

Pesticide Education and Search Tool (PEST), offers quick, bulleted information on more than a dozen common pests. The four apps aim to be immediately accessible to users and suggest alternatives to pesticides for common urban pests, like fleas, rodents and bed bugs.

The service also continues to add hundreds of pages and new services to its website, including a ZIP code-driven locator for emergency services. It is also beefing up its presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. The NPIC's website and mobile apps can be found at

Available online at

This message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottom,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog.

Amber Fossil Reveals Ancient Reproduction in Flowering Plants

Oregon State University    1/2/14

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A 100-million-year old piece of amber has been discovered which reveals the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant – a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period – with one of them in the process of making some new seeds for the next generation.

The perfectly-preserved scene, in a plant now extinct, is part of a portrait created in the mid-Cretaceous when flowering plants were changing the face of the Earth forever, adding beauty, biodiversity and food. It appears identical to the reproduction process that "angiosperms," or flowering plants still use today.

Researchers from Oregon State University and Germany published their findings on the fossils in the Journal of the Botanical Institute of Texas.

The flowers themselves are in remarkable condition, as are many such plants and insects preserved for all time in amber. The flowing tree sap covered the specimens and then began the long process of turning into a fossilized, semi-precious gem. The flower cluster is one of the most complete ever found in amber and appeared at a time when many of the flowering plants were still quite small.

Even more remarkable is the microscopic image of pollen tubes growing out of two grains of pollen and penetrating the flower's stigma, the receptive part of the female reproductive system. This sets the stage for fertilization of the egg and would begin the process of seed formation – had the reproductive act been completed.

"In Cretaceous flowers we've never before seen a fossil that shows the pollen tube actually entering the stigma," said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology at the OSU College of Science. "This is the beauty of amber fossils. They are preserved so rapidly after entering the resin that structures such as pollen grains and tubes can be detected with a microscope."

The pollen of these flowers appeared to be sticky, Poinar said, suggesting it was carried by a pollinating insect, and adding further insights into the biodiversity and biology of life in this distant era. At that time much of the plant life was composed of conifers, ferns, mosses, and cycads. During the Cretaceous, new lineages of mammals and birds were beginning to appear, along with the flowering plants. But dinosaurs still dominated the Earth.

"The evolution of flowering plants caused an enormous change in the biodiversity of life on Earth, especially in the tropics and subtropics," Poinar said.

"New associations between these small flowering plants and various types of insects and other animal life resulted in the successful distribution and evolution of these plants through most of the world today," he said. "It's interesting that the mechanisms for reproduction that are still with us today had already been established some 100 million years ago."

The fossils were discovered from amber mines in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The newly-described genus and species of flower was named Micropetasos burmensis.