Backyard Orchard News
Meet Michelle Flenniken.
She’s an insect virus researcher in professor Raul Andino's lab, UC San Francisco Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and she's the newly selected Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Davis.
You know those nasty viruses that target our honey bees? With names like Kashmir bee virus, deformed wing virus, sacbrood virus, acute bee paralysis virus, chronic bee paralysis virus, black queen cell virus, and Israeli acute paralysis virus?
She’s targeting them.
“We’re hoping that Michelle Flenniken’s expertise in molecular virology will lead to understanding one of the factors contributing to colony collapse disorder and lead to strategies that increase honeybee survival,” said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Flenniken, who received her doctorate in microbiology in 2006 from Montana State University, will continue working in the Andino lab and also with researchers at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Skilled in multidisciplinary research (molecular biology, microbiology, chemistry and cell biology), Flenniken is focusing on the biology of honeybee viruses, specifically the role of RNA interference (RNAi) in the honeybee antiviral immune responses. RNAi is a mechanism that inhibits gene expression.
Lately she's has been identifying the viruses present in the hives of San Francisco Hobby Beekeepers and research collaborators.
Viruses are not difficult to find. “Most bees have viruses, particularly common is Kashmir bee virus,” said UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen. “In fact, we’d be surprised to find a bee not carrying some type of virus.”
We thank Häagen-Dazs for their concern. Like all of us, Häagen-Dazs loves honey bees. The company, which depends on bees to pollinate the fruits, nuts and berries used in its ice cream, announced in February it would donate a total of $250,000 to UC Davis and Penn State to address the bee population decline. Very welcome, indeed!
Häagen-Dazs’s Web site, www.helpthehoneybees.com/, offers an insight into how much we need the bees and what we can do to help. It links to a UC Davis Web site where folks can donate online to save the bees. (See "Save the Honey Bees" under "Quick Links" at http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/home.cfm)
Three of our UC Davis scientists--Mussen, bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, and entomologist Michael Parrella, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences--serve on the company's advisory board.
Did you catch the full-page Häagen-Dazs ad in the June 9th edition of Newsweek? The headline says it all: “Honey, please don’t go!”
A funny thing happened on the way from El Cerrito to UC Davis on Friday, Aug. 1.
And it wasn't even Friday the 13th.
At 7 a.m., a group of UC Davis employees approached their commuter van in an El Cerrito parking lot. But, after glancing at the passenger side, they weren't at all sure they wanted to board.
A huge swarm of bees bearded the entire passenger side of the vehicle and part of the windshield. Thousands of bees. Did I say thousands of bees? Thousands of bees.
What to do? Knowing about colony collapse disorder and the declining bee population, they didn't want to hurt them. So they climbed in the van via the driver's side and circled the block, hoping the bees would disperse. They didn't.
In an un-bee-lievable sight, the white van, accompanied by the bees and their queen, buzzed to the UC campus on a 60-mile freeway ride.
When the vehicle pulled into the Shields parking lot shortly before 8 a.m., so did a long line of bees hanging around the door frame.
“We lost most of them along the way,” said vanpool driver Keir Reavie, head of the Biological and Agriculture Sciences Department at Shields Library.
How did the survivors survive?
“Some bees must have slipped inside the door frame and held on to the others by linking legs,” said UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen. “The queen bee was probably inside the crack.”
Reavie had earlier emailed him, asking what to do.
Mussen recommended that they leave them alone or contact a beekeeper on campus or in
Meanwhile, the social insects spent the day on campus, periodically leaving the van for food and water, while others—the scouts—searched campus buildings for a new home. Some bees parked on the “Van Pool Parking Only” sign and the motorcycle permit parking sign.
At least one bee casualty occurred in the Shields parking lot: a bee flew into a nearby spider’s web. When Mussen arrived at the site, the spider was feasting on the web-wrapped bee. A taste of honey.
What happened to the bees? "I was not able to contact the person Eric suggested on Friday afternoon, so nobody came to take the bees," Reavie said. " When I returned to the van at 5 p.m., most of the bees had left, but there was still a large group on the passenger side rear view mirror. Some of these dispersed on the trip back to
As for the UC Davis commuter van, it’s now “the bee mobile."
Let's hear it for our "unstung heroes."